Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs) may arise when a normal developmental gene is converted into a tumour-promoting factor by a cooperating oncogene, a Nature paper suggests. The finding has implications for diagnostics and therapeutic development.

GISTs are presumed to arise in interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs), which are located in the gastrointestinal tract. Charles Sawyers and colleagues now show that the transcription factor ETV1 promotes GIST development, and is also needed for ICC development. GISTs are known to carry mutated versions of the cancer-promoting gene KIT, and the team suggest that ETV1 cooperates with this oncogene to drive the cancer.

The fact that ETV1 seems to be present in high levels in all GISTs makes it immediately useful as a candidate diagnostic biomarker. And molecules that block ETV1 may prove useful against drug-resistant GIST.

(Complete article published in Nature, 3 October 2010)