Scientists have identified a gene whose mutation is linked to the development of an aggressive form of brain cancer. An error in a gene called TCF12 is associated with more aggressive forms of a disease called anaplastic oligodendroglioma. “Our in-depth study has set out many of the genetic defects that cause this rare but highly aggressive form of brain cancer – including identifying a gene mutation that appears in particularly fast-growing forms,” said professor Richard Houlston at The Institute of Cancer Research, London.

The TCF12 plays a key role in the formation of the embryonic brain and is the genetic code for a protein that binds to DNA and controls the activity of other genes. Mutations in TCF12 rendered the protein weak to bind to DNA, and this in turn led to a reduction in activity of other key genes including one already associated with cancer spread, known as CHD1.

The largest ever genetic study of oligodendrogliomas provides key insights into the causes of such aggressive form of cancers and how they might be treated. Oligodendrogliomas are fast-growing cancers that account for around 5-10 per cent of all tumours of the brain and central nervous system, and typically have a very poor prognosis.

In the study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers identified mutations in the TCF12 gene in 7.5 percent of anaplastic oligodendrogliomas. This subset of cancers grew more rapidly, and in other ways seemed more aggressive, than those where the gene was intact. “Anaplastic oligodendrogliomas are difficult to remove by surgery and do not respond well to other forms of treatment. We hope this new information might be used to discover new targeted therapies, offering patients a better chance at survival from this aggressive cancer,” Houlston said.

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