YL Chua, Y Ito, JCM Pole, S Newman, S-F Chin, RC Stein, IO Ellis, C Caldas, MJ O'Hare, A Murrell, PAW Edwards
Neuregulin-1 (NRG1) is both a candidate oncogene and a candidate tumour suppressor gene. It not only encodes the heregulins and other mitogenic ligands for the ERBB family, but also causes apoptosis in NRG1-expressing cells. We found that most breast cancer cell lines had reduced or undetectable expression of NRG1. This included cell lines that had translocation breaks in the gene. Similarly, expression in cancers was generally comparable to or less than that in various normal breast samples. Many non-expressing cell lines had extensive methylation of the CpG island at the principal transcription start site at exon 2 of NRG1. Expression was reactivated by demethylation. Many tumours also showed methylation, whereas normal mammary epithelial fragments had none. Lower NRG1 expression correlated with higher methylation. Small interfering RNA (siRNA)-mediated depletion of NRG1 increased net proliferation in a normal breast cell line and a breast cancer cell line that expressed NRG1. The short arm of chromosome 8 is frequently lost in epithelial cancers, and NRG1 is the most centromeric gene that is always affected. NRG1 may therefore be the major tumour suppressor gene postulated to be on 8p: it is in the correct location, is antiproliferative and is silenced in many breast cancers.