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Researchers discover new genetic defect that predisposes people to leukemia, myelodysplasia

July 27, 2017

Comparable GATA2 mutations also have been found in people with the more common, non-inherited leukemias.

Scientists are trying to figure out why apparently similar gene mutations in GATA 2 cause such assorted health problems. Also perplexing is how hard it has been to find genetic errors underlying blood cancers, compared with other cancers.

"While several genes have been discovered and linked to solid, malignant tumors such as breast cancer in families susceptible to those types of cancer, so far very few inherited mutations have been uncovered for blood cancers," Horwitz said.

Previously, other scientists linked mutations in two other genes -- RUNX1 and CEBPA - to injerited forms of myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia. These genes bind to DNA and control the copying of information encoded in this molecule.

Keeping this in mind, researchers looked for mutations in similar genes in families who did not have the RUNX1 and CEBPA mutations and who had no other explanations for their inherited blood cancer. In so doing, the researchers identified the GATA2 mutations. They also observed that these mutations relate to loss of function by making the gene unable to perform the molecular duties necessary to manufacture healthy white blood cells.

According to Horwitz, the GATA2 mutations in DNA occur adjacent to an amino acid mutated in some patients with terminal chronic myeloid leukemia. This proximity suggests a common pathway may be critical for several types of myeloid malignancies, he said.

People at risk because of their pedigree eventually may obtain tests to detect this genetic error before symptoms emerge. Learning that they have the gene mutation might help patients and their doctors decide on appropriate follow-up for early diagnosis and treatment of problems that might arise.

Additional knowledge about how the GATA2 gene and its mutations operate may foster the development of new therapeutic agents.

Source: University of Washington