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Research Highlights

  • Endocrine tumors such as aldosterone-producing adrenal adenomas (APAs), a cause of severe hypertension, feature constitutive hormone production and unrestrained cell proliferation; the mechanisms linking these events are unknown. We have identified two recurrent somatic mutations in and near the selectivity filter of the potassium (K(+)) channel KCNJ5 that are present in 8 of 22 human APAs studied. Both produce increased sodium (Na(+)) conductance and cell depolarization, which in adrenal glomerulosa cells produces calcium (Ca(2+)) entry, the signal for aldosterone production and cell proliferation. Similarly, we identified an inherited KCNJ5 mutation that produces increased Na(+) conductance in a Mendelian form of severe aldosteronism and massive bilateral adrenal hyperplasia. These findings explain pathogenesis in a subset of patients with severe hypertension and implicate loss of K(+) channel selectivity in constitutive cell proliferation and hormone production (Choi M, Scholl UI, Yue P, Björklund P, Zhao B, Nelson-Williams C, Ji W, Cho Y, Patel A, Men CJ, Lolis E, Wisgerhof MV, Geller DS, Mane S, Hellman P, Westin G, Åkerström G, Wang W, Carling T, Lifton).
  • MicroRNAs (miRNAs) belong to a recently discovered class of small RNA molecules that regulate gene expression at the post-transcriptional level. miRNAs have crucial functions in the development and establishment of cell identity, and aberrant metabolism or expression of miRNAs has been linked to human diseases, including cancer. Components of the miRNA machinery and miRNAs themselves are involved in many cellular processes that are altered in cancer, such as differentiation, proliferation and apoptosis. Some miRNAs, referred to as oncomiRs, show differential expression levels in cancer and are able to affect cellular transformation, carcinogenesis and metastasis, acting either as oncogenes or tumour suppressors. The phenomenon of 'oncogene addiction' reveals that despite the multistep nature of tumorigenesis, targeting of certain single oncogenes can have therapeutic value, and the possibility of oncomiR addiction has been proposed but never demonstrated. MicroRNA-21 (miR-21) is a unique miRNA in that it is overexpressed in most tumour types analyzed so far. Despite great interest in miR-21, most of the data implicating it in cancer have been obtained through miRNA profiling and limited in vitro functional assays. To explore the role of miR-21 in cancer in vivo, we used Cre and Tet-off technologies to generate mice conditionally expressing miR-21. Here we show that overexpression of miR-21 leads to a pre-B malignant lymphoid-like phenotype, demonstrating that mir-21 is a genuine oncogene. When miR- 21 was inactivated, the tumours regressed completely in a few days, partly as a result of apoptosis. These results demonstrate that tumours can become addicted to oncomiRs and support efforts to treat human cancers through pharmacological inactivation of miRNAs such as miR-21 (Medina PP, Nolde M, Slack FJ).