Ionizing Radiation Exposure Promotes Fusion Oncogene Formation

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The catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear power plant exposed hundreds of thousands of people to extreme levels of ionizing radiation.

In the years after the horrendous disaster, there was an acute rise in the number of papillary thyroid cancers(PTC) in patients that were children at the time of the nuclear accident.

In the October issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, James Fagin and co-workers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute, studied tissues from Ukrainian PTC patients that were children at the time of the Chernobly disaster and identified their cancer-driving mutations.chernobyl

The authors discovered that a large sum of patient tumors had chromosomal rearrangements that had been the result in fusion oncogenes. Many of these fusion events promoted upregulation of MAPK signaling, which is a common cancer-associated pathway.

In contrast, fusion oncogenes were less prevalent in PCT tumors from patients from the same geographical area, but had not been exposed to radiation.

In an accompanying commentary, Massimo Santoro and Francesca Carlomagno of the University of Naples discuss how this study offers new and valuable insight into how ionizing radiation exposure leads to cancer development.

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