The BRCA1 gene was identified and cloned in 1994 based its linkage to early onset breast cancer and breast-ovarian cancer syndromes in women. While inherited mutations of BRCA1 are responsible for about 40-45% of hereditary breast cancers, these mutations account for only 2-3% of all breast cancers, since the BRCA1 gene is rarely mutated in sporadic breast cancers. However, BRCA1 expression is frequently reduced or absent in sporadic cancers, suggesting a much wider role in mammary carcinogenesis. Since BRCA1 was cloned in 1994, its molecular function has been the subject of intense investigation. These studies have revealed multiple functions of the BRCA1 that may contribute to its tumor suppressor activity, including roles in: cell cycle progression, several highly specialized DNA repair processes, DNA damage-responsive cell cycle check-points, regulation of a set of specific transcriptional pathways, and apoptosis. Many of these functions are linked to protein:protein interactions involving different portions of the 1,863 amino acid (aa) BRCA1 protein. BRCA1 functions in cell cycle progression and the DNA damage response appear to be regulated by distinct and specific phosphorylation events, but the molecular pathways activated by these phosphorylations are only beginning to be unraveled. In addition, the reason that BRCA1 mutation carriers develop specific tumor types (breast and ovarian cancers in women and possibly prostate cancers in men) is not clearly understood. Elucidation of the precise molecular functions of the BRCA1 gene product will greatly enhance our understanding of the pathogenesis of hereditary as well as sporadic mammary carcinogenesis.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.