Cancer is caused by genetic events that result in the activation of oncogenes or the inactivation of tumor suppressor genes. Using the Tetracycline system, our laboratory has generated a transgenic mouse model in which MYC is conditionally overexpressed in hematopoietic cells, allowing us to turn MYC expression on and off at will. We have previously demonstrated that the inactivation of this single oncogene in an established and even highly invasive and metastatic lymphoma is sufficient to reverse cancer, suggesting that MYC may be an effective therapeutic target. In a variety of conditional oncogene models, we and others have found that tumor regression following oncogene inactivation involves similar phenomena, including cell cycle arrest, apoptosis, and differentiation of the tumor cells. The similarity in the regression process across a variety of different oncogenes and types of cancer strongly suggests the existence of a common signaling pathway following oncogene inactivation, which culminates in the cessation of cell proliferation and the induction of apoptosis and differentiation. Recently, we have demonstrated that MYC activation disrupts the repair of DNA breaks and results in genomic instability. We speculated that MYC inactivation may cause tumor regression by restoring the ability of tumor cells to recognize that they are genomically damaged, which could subsequently lead to the cell cycle arrest, differentiation and apoptosis that is generally observed. Indeed, we now report that upon MYC inactivation, tumor cells activate DNA damage signaling pathways and begin to repair their DNA breaks. We have found evidence for activation of a functional DNA damage response both by immunofluorescent staining for phosphorylated ATM and Mre11, which demonstrates foci formation following MYC inactivation; and by the Comet assay, which shows a quantitative decrease in severity of DNA breaks following MYC inactivation. Our results suggest that MYC inactivation may induce tumor regression at least in part through the restoration of a DNA damage checkpoint response.

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