Amplification is a key mechanism whereby a cancer cell increases the message level of genes that confer a selective advantage when they are overexpressed. In breast cancer, there are many chromosome regions present in multiple copies relative to overall DNA copy number (amplicons), and their target genes are unknown. Using differential display, we have cloned and sequenced the full coding region of a candidate amplicon target gene located on chromosome 13. This candidate is the human homologue of the Caenorhabditis elegans cul-4 gene, cul-4A, a member of the novel cullin gene family, which is involved in cell cycle control of C. elegans.

cul-4A was amplified and overexpressed in 3 of 14 breast cancer cell lines analyzed, and it was overexpressed in 8 additional cell lines in which it was not amplified. The latter observation, indicating that its overexpression can occur by mechanisms other than gene amplification, suggests that cul-4A plays a key role in carcinogenesis. Moreover, cul-4A was found to be amplified in 17 of 105 (16%) cases of untreated primary breast cancers, and 14 of 30 cases analyzed (47%) were shown by RNA in situ hybridization to overexpress cul-4A. These results suggest that up-regulation of cul-4A may play an important role in tumor progression.

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This work was supported by National Cancer Institute Grant PO1 CA44768 and Department of Energy Contract DE-AC-03-76SF00098.

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