Expression genetics in cancer: shifting the focus from DNA to RNA

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Feb 4;94(3):952-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.94.3.952.


Expression genetics is a conceptually different approach to the identification of cancer-related genes than the search for mutations at the genome level. While mutations lie at the heart of cancer, at least in its early stages, what is recognized here are phenotypic changes usually many steps removed from the initiating mutation. Classically cancer geneticists have concentrated on genomic changes and have ignored the productive potential of examining downstream events based on screening for differential gene expression between tumor cells and well matched normal counterparts. Genes involved in cancer affect the normal functions of many cellular processes: not only proliferation but cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions, DNA repair, invasion and motility, angiogenesis, senescence, apoptosis, and others. Yet very few cancer-related genes affecting these processes have been identified in human cancers by classical methods to find mutated genes despite enormous efforts. I report here our success in readily isolating more than 100 candidate tumor suppressor genes from human tissue, estimated to represent roughly 20% of the total genes recoverable by this approach. Half of the genes are unknown and the other half include representatives of most known cancer processes. Because their expression is lost during cancer progression, they may be useful tumor markers for diagnosis and prognosis. Because these genes are not mutated, they provide opportunities for pharmacological intervention by inducing their reexpression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • DNA, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • RNA, Neoplasm / genetics*


  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • RNA, Neoplasm