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Predisposition to breast cancer by mutations at the ataxia-telangiectasia genetic locus

Abstrict

The present invention relates generally to the field of human genetics. Specifically, the present invention relates to the discovery that some alleles of the A-T gene cause susceptibility to cancer, in particular breast cancer. More specifically, the present invention relates to germline mutations in the A-T gene and their use in the diagnosis of predisposition to breast cancer. The invention further relates to somatic mutations in the A-T gene in human breast cancer and their use in the diagnosis and prognosis of human breast cancer.

Claims

What is claimed is:

1. A method for detecting an alteration in an A-T gene wherein said alteration is associated with breast cancer in a human, wherein if said alteration is in germline it is associated with predisposition to said breast cancer and if said alteration is in somatic tissue it indicates that said somatic tissue is cancerous, wherein said method comprises analyzing an A-T gene or an A-T gene expression product from a tissue of said human.

2. The method of claim 1 wherein said alteration is selected from the group consisting of 3245 ATC.fwdarw.TGAT, 8269 del 150, 2689 del 5, 1402 del AA, 1216 del GAAA and 9000 T.fwdarw.C.

3. The method of claim 1 wherein said expression product is RNA.

4. The method of claim 3 wherein said alteration of wild-type A-T RNA is detected by hybridization of said RNA to a A-T probe.

5. The method of claim 1 wherein said alteration of the A-T gene is detected by observing shifts in electrophoretic mobility of single-stranded DNA on non-denaturing polyacrylamide gels.

6. The method of claim 1 wherein said alteration of the A-T gene is detected by hybridization of an A-T gene probe to genomic DNA isolated from said tissue.

7. The method of claim 1 wherein said alteration of A-T gene is detected by amplifying all or part of said A-T gene in said tissue to produce an amplified DNA and sequencing said amplified DNA.

8. The method of claim 1 wherein said alteration of the A-T gene is detected by molecularly cloning all or part of said A-T gene from said tissue to produce a cloned DNA and sequencing said cloned DNA.

9. The method of claim 1 wherein said alteration of the A-T gene is detected by identifying a mismatch between molecules (1) A-T mRNA or cDNA made from mRNA isolated from said tissue and (2) a nucleic acid probe complementary to said human wild-type A-T DNA, when molecules (1) and (2) are hybridized to each other to form a duplex.

10. The method of claim 1 wherein said alteration of the A-T gene is detected by amplification of A-T DNA from said tissue to produce amplified A-T DNA and hybridization of said amplified A-T DNA to nucleic acid probes which comprise wild-type A-T sequences.

11. The method of claim 1 wherein said alteration of the A-T gene is detected by amplification of A-T DNA from said tissue to produce amplified CtIP DNA and hybridization of said amplified A-T DNA to nucleic acid probes which comprise non-wild-type A-T sequences.

12. The method of claim 1 wherein said alteration of the A-T gene is detected by in situ hybridization of said A-T with nucleic acid probes which comprise said A-T.

13. The method of claim 1 wherein said expression product is A-T protein.

14. The method of claim 13 wherein said alteration of A-T protein is detected by immunoblotting.

15. The method of claim 13 wherein said alteration of A-T protein is detected by immunocytochemistry.

16. An isolated, altered A-T gene DNA, wherein said alteration is selected from the group consisting of 3245 ATC.fwdarw.TGAT, 8269 del 150, 2689 del 5, 1402 del AA, 1216 del GAAA and 9000 T.fwdarw.C.

17. A nucleic acid probe complementary to human altered A-T gene sequences, wherein said nucleic acid probe hybridizes to an altered A-T gene sequence having 3245 ATC.fwdarw.TGAT, 8269 del 150, 2689 del 5, 1402 del AA, 1216 del GAAA and 9000 T.fwdarw.C under hybridization conditions at which said nucleic acid probe does not hybridize to wild-type A-T gene sequences.

18. An isolated antibody immunoreactive with an altered A-T protein and not with a wild-type A-T protein wherein said altered A-T protein has an alteration resulting from an altered A-T gene having 3245 ATC.fwdarw.TGAT, 8269 del 150, 2689 del 5, 1402 del AA, 1216 del GAAA and 9000 T.fwdarw.C.

Description

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

[0001] The present application is related to provisional patent application Serial No. 60/032,435, filed Dec. 3, 1996.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0003] The present invention relates generally to the field of human genetics. Specifically, the present invention relates to the discovery that some alleles of the A-T gene cause susceptibility to cancer, in particular breast cancer. More specifically, the present invention relates to germline mutations in the A-T gene and their use in the diagnosis of predisposition to breast cancer. The invention further relates to somatic mutations in the A-T gene in human breast cancer and their use in the diagnosis and prognosis of human breast cancer.

[0004] The publications and other materials used herein to illuminate the background of the invention, and in particular, cases to provide additional details respecting the practice, are incorporated by reference, and for convenience are referenced in the following text by author and date and are listed alphabetically by author in the appended bibliography.

[0005] Breast cancer is a frequent cancer; there are approximately 183,00 new cases and 46,000 deaths from this cancer each year in the United States. It is the second most common cancer among women today, ranking only behind lung cancer. It has been estimated that the lifetime risk for a woman to develop breast cancer is about 1 in 9, although this figure must be interpreted with caution because not every women lives to age 100.

[0006] Breast cancer is treated by surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. New approaches to treatment have improved the survival of women with diagnosed breast cancer. Still, the most reliable approach to reducing mortality from this cancer is to detect it so early that treatment is more effective. It is well established that screening women by mammography beginning at age 50 leads to a substantial reduction in mortality from this cancer.

[0007] The concept that women in certain families were more likely to develop breast cancer than women in other families was noted in antiquity, observed several times in the ninteenth century, and established by family studies in the twentieth century. The observation of familial disposition to breast cancer had modest practical consequences because nothing could be done to decrease the risk of breast cancer for women in high risk families and there was no evidence that knowledge about this problem improved survival. Indeed, one could make a case that the awareness of familial predisposition led primarily to increased anxiety while having limited practical benefit.

[0008] In general, there are more cases of breast cancer among first and second degree relatives of breast cancer patients than would be expected according to the incidence of breast cancer in the general population. In a minority of families, the incidence of female breast cancer is so high that the pattern appears to follow a Mendelian autosomal dominent pattern of inheritance. Two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, have been shown responsible for the breast cancers in about two-thirds of families in which there are four or more cases of breast cancer. These genes have each been cloned and sequenced. A commercial laboratory, Myriad Genetics, now offers to test individuals to see if they carry BRCA1 or BRCA2, based on sequencing of the DNA from the individuals who are tested. Such testing will be valuable to those women--probably less than 1% of the population--who come from families in which the density of breast cancer is high.

[0009] The ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) gene represents another approach to identifying a gene responsible for some breast cancers. This gene was first recognized because it causes a distinctive autosomal recessive syndrome characterized by cerebellar ataxia and oculocutaneous telangiectasia in children who have two copies of this gene (Swift, 1993). A great deal has been learned about the clinical features and laboratory findings in A-T since its description in the late 1950s. One of the most important facts to emerge was that patients with A-T (who will be called A-T homozygotes) developed cancer at a rate approximately 100-fold greater than children of the same age who do not have A-T (Morrell et al., 1986). It also became evident that the A-T gene makes homozygous patients and their cells many-fold more sensitive to the harmful effects of ionizing radiation. Lymphoid cancers predominate in childhood, while epithelial cancers including breast cancer are seen in adolescent and young adult A-T patients (Swift et al., 1990b).

[0010] Still, A-T homozygotes are rare and this gene might be of only theoretical interest except for the series of studies that suggested and now have confirmed that A-T heterozygotes, who constitute approximately 1.4% of the population, are also predisposed to cancer. The first evidence for this came from a study in the early 1970s in which it was shown that the cancer mortality in A-T blood relatives exceeded that of spouse controls in the same families by a statistically significant amount (Swift et al., 1976). This hypothesis was confirmed further by the retrospective analysis of 110 Caucasian A-T families in the United States in which there was a highly significant excess of cancer in the blood relatives when the incidence was compared to that in spouse controls. This study, published in 1987, provided the first evidence that the A-T gene predisposed to breast cancer. (Swift et al., 1987) Further support for the hypothesis was provided by a large scale prospective study of cancer incidence in A-T blood relatives and spouse controls published in 1991 (Swift et al., 1991), and by other smaller studies including two independent studies in Europe (Morrell et al., 1990; Peppard et al., 1988; Borresen et al., 1990).

[0011] The interpretation of these previous studies is limited by the facts that not all A-T blood relatives carry the A-T gene and by the inevitable question of how well the spouse controls are matched to the blood relatives. Though the study methods were standard, these limitations on interpretation remained. Further, findings from these earlier studies were characterized by several scientists as "a controversial suggestion," (Kasten, 1995) "a possibility," (Savitsky et al., 1995; Collins, 1996) or, "just a hypothesis" (Boice, 1995).

[0012] Thus, it is important to confirm that the A-T gene is associated with breast cancer using the best available genetic methods and identifying mutations in the A-T gene in families with breast cancer.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0013] The present invention relates generally to the field of human genetics. Specifically, the present invention relates to the discovery that some alleles of the A-T gene cause susceptibility to cancer, in particular breast cancer. More specifically, the present invention relates to germline mutations in the A-T gene and their use in the diagnosis of predisposition to breast cancer. The invention further relates to somatic mutations in the A-T gene in human breast cancer and their use in the diagnosis and prognosis of human breast cancer.

[0014] In accordance with the present invention, the hypothesis that A-T heterozygotes are predisposed to breast cancer has now been confirmed with unassailable rigor by collecting a group of female blood relatives with breast cancer in A-T families and testing DNA from each of these individuals to determine which of them carried the A-T gene. The method utilized highly polymorphic, tightly linked flanking markers (Gatti et al., 1994) and the index-test method (Swift et al., 1990a).

[0015] In addition, the association of the A-T gene with breast cancer is conclusively established by the identification of specific germline mutations in the A-T gene in families with breast cancer.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0016] The present invention relates generally to the field of human genetics. Specifically, the present invention relates to the discovery that some alleles of the A-T gene cause susceptibility to cancer, in particular breast cancer. More specifically, the present invention relates to germline mutations in the A-T gene and their use in the diagnosis of predisposition to breast cancer. The invention further relates to somatic mutations in the A-T gene in human breast cancer and their use in the diagnosis and prognosis of human breast cancer.

[0017] In accordance with the present invention, the hypothesis that A-T heterozygotes are predisposed to breast cancer has now been confirmed with unassailable rigor by collecting a group of female blood relatives with breast cancer in A-T families and testing DNA from each of these individuals to determine which of them carried the A-T gene. The method utilized highly polymorphic, tightly linked flanking markers (Gatti et al., 1994) and the index-test method (Swift et al., 1990a).

[0018] In addition, the association of the A-T gene with breast cancer is conclusively established by the identification of specific germline mutations in the A-T gene in families with breast cancer.

[0019] Briefly, the hypothesis that female heterozygous carriers of the A-T gene are predisposed to breast cancer has now been established as described further below. In this test of the hypothesis, carriers of the A-T gene were identified by tracing the gene in families of A-T homozygous probands through tightly linked DNA markers. This is just one of the ways in which A-T heterozygotes can be identified. Indeed, in these carriers we have directly shown that they carry an A-T mutation in two of them, as described below.

[0020] More specifically, the hypothesis that A-T heterozygotes are predisposed to breast cancer was tested by the unbiased statistically powerful index-test method based on molecular genotyping. The A-T gene carrier status of 775 blood relatives in 99 A-T families was determined by tracing the A-T gene in each family through tightly linked flanking DNA markers. There were 33 women with breast cancer who could be genotyped; 25 of these were A-T heterozygotes, compared to 14.9 expected (odds ratio 3.8; 95% confidence limits 1.7 -8.4; one-sided P=0.0001). This demonstrates that the A-T gene predisposes heterozygotes to breast cancer. For the 21 breast cancers with onset before age 60, the odds ratio was 2.9 (1.1-7.6; P=0.009) and for the 12 cases with onset at age 60 or older, the odds ratio was 6.4 (1.4-28.8; P=0.002). Thus the breast cancer risk for A-T heterozygous women is not limited to young women but appears even higher at older ages. Of all breast cancers in the United States, 6.6% may occur in women who are A-T heterozygotes. This proportion is several-fold greater than the estimated proportion of carriers of BRCA1 mutations in breast cancer cases with onset at any age.

[0021] These new findings demonstrate that a test that reliably identifies heterozygous carriers of the A-T gene identifies individuals whose risk of breast cancer is substantially greater than the risk of non-carriers or the general population. The most efficient and least costly way to identify carriers of this gene may vary from situation to situation, according to the prior art. In one embodiment of the present invention, the least expensive, reliable way to identify gene carriers in families in which the A-T gene is known to be segregating is through tightly linked flanking markers, as in Examples 1 and 2 below.

[0022] In a second embodiment of the present invention, this predisposition to female breast cancer in the general population can be detected at present through testing an individual's DNA for mutations at the A-T gene locus. Any reliable laboratory or clinical test that will determine who carries the A-T gene will, according to the use proposed in this patent, be suitable for testing for cancer predisposition.

[0023] As an example of the second embodiment, heteroduplex analysis of two of the heterozygous carriers with breast cancer reported in the attached manuscript was used to identify two mutations. For heteroduplex analysis each exon of the A-T gene is amplified by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using as template genomic DNA from the test subject. The PCR product is then run on an MDE gel which detects heteroduplexes due to differences between the PCR products from the subject's two chromosomes. If there are no differences, then only a single band is seen and there is no sequence variation in that exon in that subject. When an additional band is seen, the PCR products are cloned so that DNA from each chromosome can be sequenced. The mutation is verified by comparison of the variant sequence to the known sequence of that exon in the A-T gene (Platzer et al., 1997). Further confirmation of the mutation is obtained by sequencing the same exon in close relatives of the subject.

[0024] The identification of these mutations conclusively confirms the involvement of the A-T gene in breast cancer. Specifically, one mutation is the nucleotide change ATC.fwdarw.TGAT at base 3245, codon 1082 in exon 24. A second mutation was a deletion of 150 basepairs beginning at nucleotide 8269 of codon 2757, leading to the deletion of exon 59. The first mutation predicts a truncation of the protein and the second predicts a deletion of 50 amino acids. These mutations and those noted herein are numbered with respect to the coding sequence of the A-T gene.

[0025] Alternatively, each exon of the A-T gene is amplified by PCR using primers based on the known sequence. The amplified exons are then sequenced using automated sequencers. In this manner, the exons of the A-T gene from families with breast cancer are sequenced until a mutation is found. The mutation is then confirmed in individual with breast cancer. Using this technique, an additional four mutations have been identified. One of these mutations is the deletion of 5 nucleotides beginning at nucleotide 2689 of exon 20. A second mutation is the deletion of AA beginning at nucleotide 1402 of exon 12. A third mutation is the deletion of GAAA beginning at nucleotide 1216 in exon 10. A fourth is the nucleotide change TTT.fwdarw.C at nucleotide 9003 in exon 65.

[0026] Also provided by the present invention are methods of detecting a polynucleotide comprising a portion of the A-T locus or its expression product in an analyte. Such methods may further comprise the step of amplifying the portion of the A-T locus, and may further include a step of providing a set of polynucleotides which are primers for amplification of said portion of the A-T locus. The method is useful for either diagnosis of the predisposition to cancer or the diagnosis or prognosis of cancer.

[0027] It is a discovery of the present invention that mutations in the A-T locus in the germline are indicative of a predisposition to breast cancer cancer. Finally, it is a discovery of the present invention that somatic mutations in the A-T locus are also associated with breast cancer, which represents an indicator of this cancer or of the prognosis of this cancer. The mutational events of the A-T locus can involve deletions, insertions and point mutations within the coding sequence and the non-coding sequence.

[0028] According to the diagnostic and prognostic method of the present invention, alteration of the wild-type A-T locus is detected. "Alteration of a wild-type gene" encompasses all forms of mutations including deletions, insertions and point mutations in the coding and noncoding regions. Deletions may be of the entire gene or of only a portion of the gene. Point mutations may result in stop codons, frameshift mutations or amino acid substitutions. Somatic mutations are those which occur only in certain tissues, e.g., in the tumor tissue, and are not inherited in the germline. Germline mutations can be found in any of a body's tissues and are inherited. If only a single allele is somatically mutated, an early neoplastic state is indicated. The finding of A-T mutations thus provides both diagnostic and prognostic information. An A-T allele which is not deleted (e.g., found on the sister chromosome to a chromosome carrying an A-T deletion) can be screened for other mutations, such as insertions, small deletions, and point mutations. It is believed that many mutations found in tumor tissues will be those leading to decreased expression of the A-T gene product. However, mutations leading to non-functional gene products would also lead to a cancerous state. Point mutational events may occur in regulatory regions, such as in the promoter of the gene, leading to loss or diminution of expression of the mRNA. Point mutations may also abolish proper RNA processing, leading to loss of expression of the A-T gene product, or to a decrease in mRNA stability or translation efficiency.

[0029] Useful diagnostic techniques include, but are not limited to direct DNA sequencing, PFGE analysis, allele-specific oligonucleotide (ASO), dot blot analysis and denaturing gradient el electrophoresis, as discussed in detail further below.

[0030] Predisposition to cancers, such as breast cancer, and the other cancers identified herein, can be ascertained by testing any tissue of a human for mutations of the A-T gene. For example, a person who has inherited a germline A-T mutation would be prone to develop cancers. This can be determined by testing DNA from any tissue of the person's body. Most simply, blood can be drawn and DNA extracted from the cells of the blood. In addition, prenatal diagnosis can be accomplished by testing fetal cells, placental cells or amniotic cells for mutations of the A-T gene. Alteration of a wild-type A-T allele, whether, for example, by point mutation or deletion, can be detected by any of the means discussed herein.

[0031] There are several methods that can be used to detect DNA sequence variation. Direct DNA sequencing, either manual sequencing or automated fluorescent sequencing can detect sequence variation. For a gene as large as A-T, manual sequencing is very labor-intensive, but under optimal conditions, mutations in the coding sequence of a gene are rarely missed. Another approach is the single-stranded conformation polymorphism assay (SSCA) (Orita et al., 1989). This method does not detect all sequence changes, especially if the DNA fragment size is greater than 200 bp, but can be optimized to detect most DNA sequence variation. The reduced detection sensitivity is a disadvantage, but the increased throughput possible with SSCA makes it an attractive, viable alternative to direct sequencing for mutation detection on a research basis. The fragments which have shifted mobility on SSCA gels are then sequenced to determine the exact nature of the DNA sequence variation. Other approaches based on the detection of mismatches between the two complementary DNA strands include clamped denaturing gel electrophoresis (CDGE) (Sheffield et al., 1991), heteroduplex analysis (HA) (White et al., 1992) and chemical mismatch cleavage (CMC) (Grompe et al., 1989). A review of currently available methods of detecting DNA sequence variation can be found in a recent review by Grompe (1993). Once a mutation is known, an allele specific detection approach such as allele specific oligonucleotide (ASO) hybridization can be utilized to rapidly screen large numbers of other samples for that same mutation. Such a technique can utilize probes which are labeled with gold nanoparticles to yield a visual color result (Elghanian et al., 1997).

[0032] In order to detect the alteration of the wild-type A-T gene in a tissue, it is helpful to isolate the tissue free from surrounding normal tissues. Means for enriching tissue preparation for tumor cells are known in the art. For example, the tissue may be isolated from paraffin or cryostat sections. Cancer cells may also be separated from normal cells by flow cytometry. These techniques, as well as other techniques for separating tumor cells from normal cells, are well known in the art. If the tumor tissue is highly contaminated with normal cells, detection of mutations is more difficult.

[0033] Detection of point mutations may be accomplished by molecular cloning of the A-T allele(s) and sequencing the allele(s) using techniques well known in the art. Alternatively, the gene sequences can be amplified directly from a genomic DNA preparation from the tumor tissue, using known techniques. The DNA sequence of the amplified sequences can then be determined.

[0034] There are six well known methods for a more complete, yet still indirect, test for confirming the presence of a susceptibility allele: 1) single stranded conformation analysis (SSCA) (Orita et al., 1989); 2) denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) (Wartell et al., 1990; Sheffield et al., 1989); 3) RNase protection assays (Finkelstein et al., 1990; Kinszler et al., 1991); 4) allele-specific oligonucleotides (ASOs) (Conner et al., 1983); 5) the use of proteins which recognize nucleotide mismatches, such as the E. coli mutS protein (Modrich, 1991); and 6) allele-specific PCR (Rano & Kidd, 1989). For allele-specific PCR, primers are used which hybridize at their 3' ends to a particular A-T mutation. If the particular A-T mutation is not present, an amplification product is not observed. Amplification Refractory Mutation System (ARMS) can also be used, as disclosed in European Patent Application Publication No. 0332435 and in Newton et al., 1989. Insertions and deletions of genes can also be detected by cloning, sequencing and amplification. In addition, restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) probes for the gene or surrounding marker genes can be used to score alteration of an allele or an insertion in a polymorphic fragment. Such a method is particularly useful for screening relatives of an affected individual for the presence of the A-T mutation found in that individual. Other techniques for detecting insertions and deletions as known in the art can be used.

[0035] In the first three methods (SSCA, DGGE and RNase protection assay), a new electrophoretic band appears. SSCA detects a band which migrates differentially because the sequence change causes a difference in single-strand, intramolecular base pairing. RNase protection involves cleavage of the mutant polynucleotide into two or more smaller fragments. DGGE detects differences in migration rates of mutant sequences compared to wild-type sequences, using a denaturing gradient gel. In an allele-specific oligonucleotide assay, an oligonucleotide is designed which detects a specific sequence, and the assay is performed by detecting the presence or absence of a hybridization signal. In the mutS assay, the protein binds only to sequences that contain a nucleotide mismatch in a heteroduplex between mutant and wild-type sequences.

[0036] Mismatches, according to the present invention, are hybridized nucleic acid duplexes in which the two strands are not 100% complementary. Lack of total homology may be due to deletions, insertions, inversions or substitutions. Mismatch detection can be used to detect point mutations in the gene or in its mRNA product. While these techniques are less sensitive than sequencing, they are simpler to perform on a large number of tumor samples. An example of a mismatch cleavage technique is the RNase protection method. In the practice of the present invention, the method involves the use of a labeled riboprobe which is complementary to the human wild-type A-T gene coding sequence. The riboprobe and either mRNA or DNA isolated from the tumor tissue are annealed (hybridized) together and subsequently digested with the enzyme RNase A which is able to detect some mismatches in a duplex RNA structure. If a mismatch is detected by RNase A, it cleaves at the site of the mismatch. Thus, when the annealed RNA preparation is separated on an electrophoretic gel matrix, if a mismatch has been detected and cleaved by RNase A, an RNA product will be seen which is smaller than the full length duplex RNA for the riboprobe and the mRNA or DNA. The riboprobe need not be the full length of the A-T mRNA or gene but can be a segment of either. If the riboprobe comprises only a segment of the A-T mRNA or gene, it will be desirable to use a number of these probes to screen the whole mRNA sequence for mismatches.

[0037] In similar fashion, DNA probes can be used to detect mismatches, through enzymatic or chemical cleavage. See, e.g., Cotton et al, 1988; Shenk et al., 1975; Novack et al., 1986. Alternatively, mismatches can be detected by shifts in the electrophoretic mobility of mismatched duplexes relative to matched duplexes. See, e.g., Cariello, 1988. With either riboprobes or DNA probes, the cellular mRNA or DNA which might contain a mutation can be amplified using PCR (see below) before hybridization.

[0038] The newly developed technique of nucleic acid analysis via microchip technology is also applicable to the present invention. In this technique, literally thousands of distinct oligonucleotide probes are built up in an array on a silicon chip. Nucleic acid to be analyzed is fluorescently labeled and hybridized to the probes on the chip. It is also possible to study nucleic acid-protein interactions using these nucleic acid microchips. Using this technique one can determine the presence of mutations or even sequence the nucleic acid being analyzed or one can measure expression levels of a gene of interest. The method is one of parallel processing of many, even thousands, of probes at once and can tremendously increase the rate of analysis. Several papers have been published which use this technique. Some of these are Hacia et al., 1996; Shoemaker et al., 1996; Chee et al., 1996; Lockhart et al., 1996; DeRisi et al., 1996; Lipshutz et al., 1995. This method has already been used to screen people for mutations in the breast cancer gene BRCA1 (Hacia et al., 1996). This new technology has been reviewed in a news article in Chemical and Engineering News (Borman, 1996) and been the subject of an editorial (Nature Genetics, 1996). Also see Fodor (1997).

[0039] DNA sequences of the A-T gene which have been amplified by use of PCR may also be screened using allele-specific probes. These probes are nucleic acid oligomers, each of which contains a region of the A-T gene sequence harboring a known mutation. For example, one oligomer may be about 30 nucleotides in length, corresponding to a portion of the A-T gene sequence. By use of a battery of such allele-specific probes, PCR amplification products can be screened to identify the presence of a previously identified mutation in the A-T gene. Hybridization of allele-specific probes with amplified A-T sequences can be performed, for example, on a nylon filter. Hybridization to a particular probe under stringent hybridization conditions indicates the presence of the same mutation in the tumor tissue as in the allele-specific probe.

[0040] Alteration of A-T mRNA expression can be detected by any techniques known in the art. These include Northern blot analysis, PCR amplification and RNase protection. Diminished mRNA expression indicates an alteration of the wild-type A-T gene. Alteration of wild-type A-T genes can also be detected by screening for alteration of wild-type A-T protein. For example, monoclonal antibodies immunoreactive with A-T can be used to screen a tissue. Lack of cognate antigen would indicate an A-T mutation. Antibodies specific for products of mutant alleles could also be used to detect mutant A-T gene product. Such immunological assays can be done in any convenient formats known in the art. These include Western blots, immunohistochemical assays and ELISA assays. Any means for detecting an altered A-T protein can be used to detect alteration of wild-type A-T genes. Functional assays, such as protein binding determinations, can be used. In addition, assays can be used which detect A-T biochemical function. Finding a mutant A-T gene product indicates alteration of a wild-type A-T gene.

[0041] Mutant A-T genes or gene products can also be detected in other human body samples, such as serum, stool, urine and sputum. The same techniques discussed above for detection of mutant A-T genes or gene products in tissues can be applied to other body samples. Cancer cells are sloughed off from tumors and appear in such body samples. In addition, the A-T gene product itself may be secreted into the extracellular space and found in these body samples even in the absence of cancer cells. By screening such body samples, a simple early diagnosis can be achieved for many types of cancers. In addition, the progress of chemotherapy or radiotherapy can be monitored more easily by testing such body samples for mutant A-T genes or gene products.

[0042] The methods of diagnosis of the present invention are applicable to any tumor in which A-T has a role in tumorigenesis. The diagnostic method of the present invention is useful for clinicians, so they can decide upon an appropriate course of treatment.

[0043] Primer pairs are useful for determination of the nucleotide sequence of a particular A-T allele using PCR. The pairs of single-stranded DNA primers can be annealed to sequences within or surrounding the A-T gene on chromosome 11q22-23 in order to prime amplifying DNA synthesis of the A-T gene itself. A complete set of these primers allows synthesis of all of the nucleotides of the A-T gene coding sequences, i.e., the exons. The set of primers preferably allows synthesis of both intron and exon sequences. Allele-specific primers can also be used. Such primers anneal only to particular A-T mutant alleles, and thus will only amplify a product in the presence of the mutant allele as a template.

[0044] In order to facilitate subsequent cloning of amplified sequences, primers may have restriction enzyme site sequences appended to their 5' ends. Thus, all nucleotides of the primers are derived from A-T sequences or sequences adjacent to A-T, except for the few nucleotides necessary to form a restriction enzyme site. Such enzymes and sites are well known in the art. The primers themselves can be synthesized using techniques which are well known in the art. Generally, the primers can be made using oligonucleotide synthesizing machines which are commercially available. Given the sequence of the A-T open reading frame as set forth in Genbank accession number U33841 (Savitsky et al. 1995a; Savitsky et al., 1995b; Platzer et al., 1997), design of particular primers is well within the skill of the art.

[0045] The nucleic acid probes provided by the present invention are useful for a number of purposes. The probes can be used to detect PCR amplification products. They may also be used to detect mismatches with the A-T gene or mRNA using other techniques.

[0046] However, mutations which interfere with the function of the A-T protein are involved in the pathogenesis of cancer. Thus, the presence of an altered (or a mutant) A-T gene which produces a protein having a loss of function, or altered function, directly correlates to an increased risk of cancer. In order to detect a A-T gene mutation, a biological sample is prepared and analyzed for a difference between the sequence of the A-T allele being analyzed and the sequence of the wild-type A-T allele. Mutant A-T alleles can be initially identified by any of the techniques described above. The mutant alleles are then sequenced to identify the specific mutation of the particular mutant allele. Alternatively, mutant A-T alleles can be initially identified by identifying mutant (altered) A-T proteins, using conventional techniques. The mutant alleles are then sequenced to identify the specific mutation for each allele. The mutations, especially those which lead to an altered function of the A-T protein, are then used for the diagnostic and prognostic methods of the present invention.

[0047] Definitions

[0048] The present invention employs the following definitions:

[0049] "Amplification of Polynucleotides" utilizes methods such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), ligation amplification (or ligase chain reaction, LCR) and amplification methods based on the use of Q-beta replicase. These methods are well known and widely practiced in the art. See, e.g., U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,683,195 and 4,683,202 and Innis et al., 1990 (for PCR); and Wu et al., 1989a (for LCR). Reagents and hardware for conducting PCR are commercially available. Primers useful to amplify sequences from the A-T region are preferably complementary to, and hybridize specifically to sequences in the A-T region or in regions that flank a target region therein. A-T sequences generated by amplification may be sequenced directly. Alternatively, but less desirably, the amplified sequence(s) may be cloned prior to sequence analysis. A method for the direct cloning and sequence analysis of enzymatically amplified genomic segments has been described by Scharf, 1986.

[0050] "Analyte polynucleotide" and "analyte strand" refer to a single- or double-stranded polynucleotide which is suspected of containing a target sequence, and which may be present in a variety of types of samples, including biological samples.

[0051] "Antibodies." The present invention also provides polyclonal and/or monoclonal antibodies and fragments thereof, and immunologic binding equivalents thereof, which are capable of specifically binding to the A-T polypeptides and fragments thereof or to polynucleotide sequences from the A-T region, particularly from the A-T locus or a portion thereof. The term "antibody" is used both to refer to a homogeneous molecular entity, or a mixture such as a serum product made up of a plurality of different molecular entities. Polypeptides may be prepared synthetically in a peptide synthesizer and coupled to a carrier molecule (e.g., keyhole limpet hemocyanin) and injected over several months into rabbits. Rabbit sera is tested for immunoreactivity to the A-T polypeptide or fragment. Monoclonal antibodies may be made by injecting mice with the protein polypeptides, fusion proteins or fragments thereof. Monoclonal antibodies will be screened by ELISA and tested for specific immunoreactivity with A-T polypeptide or fragments thereof. See, Harlow & Lane, 1988. These antibodies will be useful in assays as well as pharmaceuticals.

[0052] Once a sufficient quantity of desired polypeptide has been obtained, it may be used for various purposes. A typical use is the production of antibodies specific for binding. These antibodies may be either polyclonal or monoclonal, and may be produced by in vitro or in vivo techniques well known in the art. For production of polyclonal antibodies, an appropriate target immune system, typically mouse or rabbit, is selected. Substantially purified antigen is presented to the immune system in a fashion determined by methods appropriate for the animal and by other parameters well known to immunologists. Typical sites for injection are in footpads, intramuscularly, intraperitoneally, or intradermally. Of course, other species may be substituted for mouse or rabbit. Polyclonal antibodies are then purified using techniques known in the art, adjusted for the desired specificity.

[0053] An immunological response is usually assayed with an immunoassay. Normally, such immunoassays involve some purification of a source of antigen, for example, that produced by the same cells and in the same fashion as the antigen. A variety of immunoassay methods are well known in the art. See, e.g., Harlow & Lane, 1988, or Goding, 1986.

[0054] Monoclonal antibodies with affinities of 10.sup.-8 M.sup.-1 or preferably 10.sup.-9 to 10.sup.-10 M.sup.-1 or stronger will typically be made by standard procedures as described, e.g., in Harlow & Lane, 1988 or Goding, 1986. Briefly, appropriate animals will be selected and the desired immunization protocol followed. After the appropriate period of time, the spleens of such animals are excised and individual spleen cells fused, typically, to immortalized myeloma cells under appropriate selection conditions. Thereafter, the cells are clonally separated and the supernatants of each clone tested for their production of an appropriate antibody specific for the desired region of the antigen.

[0055] Other suitable techniques involve in vitro exposure of lymphocytes to the antigenic polypeptides, or alternatively, to selection of libraries of antibodies in phage or similar vectors. See Huse et al., 1989. The polypeptides and antibodies of the present invention may be used with or without modification. Frequently, polypeptides and antibodies will be labeled by joining, either covalently or non-covalently, a substance which provides for a detectable signal. A wide variety of labels and conjugation techniques are known and are reported extensively in both the scientific and patent literature. Suitable labels include radionuclides, enzymes, substrates, cofactors, inhibitors, fluorescent agents, chemiluminescent agents, magnetic particles and the like. Patents teaching the use of such labels include U.S. Pat. Nos. 3,817,837; 3,850,752; 3,939,350; 3,996,345; 4,277,437; 4,275,149 and 4,366,241. Also, recombinant immunoglobulins may be produced (see U.S. Pat. No. 4,816,567).

[0056] "A-T allele" refers to normal alleles of the A-T locus as well as alleles carrying variations that predispose individuals to develop cancer of many sites including, for example, breast, ovarian, cancer. Such predisposing alleles are also called "A-T susceptibility alleles".

[0057] "A-T locus," "A-T gene," "A-T Nucleic Acids" or "A-T Polynucleotide" each refer to polynucleotides, all of which are in the A-T region, that are likely to be expressed in normal tissue, certain alleles of which predispose an individual to develop breast, ovarian, cancers. Mutations at the A-T locus may be involved in the initiation and/or progression of other types of tumors. The locus is indicated in part by mutations that predispose individuals to develop cancer. These mutations fall within the A-T region. The A-T locus is intended to include coding sequences, intervening sequences and regulatory elements controlling transcription and/or translation. The A-T locus is intended to include all allelic variations of the DNA sequence.

[0058] A "biological sample" refers to a sample of tissue or fluid suspected of containing an analyte polynucleotide or polypeptide from an individual including, but not limited to, e.g., plasma, serum, spinal fluid, lymph fluid, the external sections of the skin, respiratory, intestinal, and genitourinary tracts, tears, saliva, blood cells, tumors, organs, tissue and samples of in vitro cell culture constituents.

[0059] As used herein, the terms "diagnosing" or "prognosing," as used in the context of neoplasia, are used to indicate 1) the classification of lesions as neoplasia, 2) the determination of the severity of the neoplasia, or 3) the monitoring of the disease progression, prior to, during and after treatment.

[0060] "Probes". Polynucleotide sequence variants associated with A-T alleles which predispose to certain cancers or are associated with most cancers are detected by hybridization with a polynucleotide probe which forms a stable hybrid with that of the target sequence, under stringent to moderately stringent hybridization and wash conditions. If it is expected that the probes will be perfectly complementary to the target sequence, stringent conditions will be used. Hybridization stringency may be lessened if some mismatching is expected, for example, if variants are expected with the result that the probe will not be completely complementary. Conditions are chosen which rule out nonspecific/adventitious bindings, that is, which minimize noise. Since such indications identify neutral DNA polymorphisms as well as mutations, these indications need further analysis to demonstrate detection of an A-T susceptibility allele.

[0061] Probes for A-T alleles may be derived from the sequences of the A-T region or its cDNAs. The probes may be of any suitable length, which span all or a portion of the A-T region, and which allow specific hybridization to the A-T region. If the target sequence contains a sequence identical to that of the probe, the probes may be short, e.g., in the range of about 8-30 base pairs, since the hybrid will be relatively stable under even stringent conditions. If some degree of mismatch is expected with the probe, i.e., if it is suspected that the probe will hybridize to a variant region, a longer probe may be employed which hybridizes to the target sequence with the requisite specificity.

[0062] The probes will include an isolated polynucleotide attached to a label or reporter molecule and may be used to isolate other polynucleotide sequences, having sequence similarity by standard methods. For techniques for preparing and labeling probes see, e.g., Sambrook et al., 1989 or Ausubel et al., 1992. Other similar polynucleotides may be selected by using homologous polynucleotides. Alternatively, polynucleotides encoding these or similar polypeptides may be synthesized or selected by use of the redundancy in the genetic code. Various codon substitutions may be introduced, e.g., by silent changes (thereby producing various restriction sites) or to optimize expression for a particular system. Mutations may be introduced to modify the properties of the polypeptide, perhaps to change ligand-binding affinities, interchain affinities, or the polypeptide degradation or turnover rate.

[0063] Probes comprising synthetic oligonucleotides or other polynucleotides of the present invention may be derived from naturally occurring or recombinant single- or double-stranded polynucleotides, or be chemically synthesized. Probes may also be labeled by nick translation, Klenow fill-in reaction, or other methods known in the art.

[0064] Portions of the polynucleotide sequence having at least about eight nucleotides, usually at least about 15 nucleotides, and fewer than about 6 kb, usually fewer than about 1.0 kb, from a polynucleotide sequence encoding A-T are preferred as probes. The probes may also be used to determine whether mRNA encoding A-T is present in a cell or tissue.

[0065] "Target region" refers to a region of the nucleic acid which is amplified and/or detected. The term "target sequence" refers to a sequence with which a probe or primer will form a stable hybrid under desired conditions.

[0066] The practice of the present invention employs, unless otherwise indicated, conventional techniques of chemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, recombinant DNA, genetics, and immunology. See, e.g., Maniatis et al., 1982; Sambrook et al., 1989; Ausubel et al., 1992; Glover, 1985; Anand, 1992; Guthrie & Fink, 1991.

[0067] Methods of Use: Nucleic Acid Diagnosis and Diagnostic Kits

[0068] In order to detect the presence of a A-T allele predisposing an individual to cancer, a biological sample such as blood is prepared and analyzed for the presence or absence of susceptibility alleles of A-T. In order to detect the presence of neoplasia, the progression toward malignancy of a precursor lesion, or as a prognostic indicator, a biological sample of the lesion is prepared and analyzed for the presence or absence of mutant alleles of A-T. Results of these tests and interpretive information are returned to the health care provider for communication to the tested individual. Such diagnoses may be performed by diagnostic laboratories, or, alternatively, diagnostic kits are manufactured and sold to health care providers or to private individuals for self-diagnosis.

[0069] Initially, the screening method involves amplification of the relevant A-T sequences. In another preferred embodiment of the invention, the screening method involves a non-PCR based strategy. Such screening methods include two-step label amplification methodologies that are well known in the art. Both PCR and non-PCR based screening strategies can detect target sequences with a high level of sensitivity.

[0070] The most popular method used today is target amplification. Here, the target nucleic acid sequence is amplified with polymerases. One particularly preferred method using polymerase-driven amplification is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The polymerase chain reaction and other polymerase-driven amplification assays can achieve over a million-fold increase in copy number through the use of polymerase-driven amplification cycles. Once amplified, the resulting nucleic acid can be sequenced or used as a substrate for DNA probes.

[0071] When the probes are used to detect the presence of the target sequences (for example, in screening for cancer susceptibility), the biological sample to be analyzed, such as blood or serum, may be treated, if desired, to extract the nucleic acids. The sample nucleic acid may be prepared in various ways to facilitate detection of the target sequence; e.g. denaturation, restriction digestion, electrophoresis or dot blotting. The targeted region of the analyte nucleic acid usually must be at least partially single-stranded to form hybrids with the targeting sequence of the probe. If the sequence is naturally single-stranded, denaturation will not be required. However, if the sequence is double-stranded, the sequence will probably need to be denatured. Denaturation can be carried out by various techniques known in the art.

[0072] Analyte nucleic acid and probe are incubated under conditions which promote stable hybrid formation of the target sequence in the probe with the putative targeted sequence in the analyte. The region of the probes which is used to bind to the analyte can be made completely complementary to the targeted region of human chromosome 11q. Therefore, high stringency conditions are desirable in order to prevent false positives. However, conditions of high stringency are used only if the probes are complementary to regions of the chromosome which are unique in the genome. The stringency of hybridization is determined by a number of factors during hybridization and during the washing procedure, including temperature, ionic strength, base composition, probe length, and concentration of formamide. These factors are outlined in, for example, Maniatis et al., 1982 and Sambrook et al., 1989. Under certain circumstances, the formation of higher order hybrids, such as triplexes, quadraplexes, etc., may be desired to provide the means of detecting target sequences.

[0073] Detection, if any, of the resulting hybrid is usually accomplished by the use of labeled probes. Alternatively, the probe may be unlabeled, but may be detectable by specific binding with a ligand which is labeled, either directly or indirectly. Suitable labels, and methods for labeling probes and ligands are known in the art, and include, for example, radioactive labels which may be incorporated by known methods (e.g., nick translation, random priming or kinasing), biotin, fluorescent groups, chemiluminescent groups (e.g., dioxetanes, particularly triggered dioxetanes), enzymes, antibodies and the like. Variations of this basic scheme are known in the art, and include those variations that facilitate separation of the hybrids to be detected from extraneous materials and/or that amplify the signal from the labeled moiety. A number of these variations are reviewed in, e.g., Matthews & Kricka, 1988; Landegren et al., 1988; Mittlin, 1989; U.S. Pat. No. 4,868,105, and in EPO Publication No. 225,807.

[0074] As noted above, non-PCR based screening assays are also contemplated in this invention. This procedure hybridizes a nucleic acid probe (or an analog such as a methyl phosphonate backbone replacing the normal phosphodiester), to the low level DNA target. This probe may have an enzyme covalently linked to the probe, such that the covalent linkage does not interfere with the specificity of the hybridization. This enzyme-probe-conjugate-target nucleic acid complex can then be isolated away from the free probe enzyme conjugate and a substrate is added for enzyme detection. Enzymatic activity is observed as a change in color development or luminescent output resulting in a 10.sup.3-10.sup.6 increase in sensitivity. For an example relating to the preparation of oligodeoxynucleotide-alkaline phosphatase conjugates and their use as hybridization probes see Jablonski et al., 1986.

[0075] Two-step label amplification methodologies are known in the art. These assays work on the principle that a small ligand (such as digoxigenin, biotin, or the like) is attached to a nucleic acid probe capable of specifically binding A-T. Allele specific probes are also contemplated within the scope of this invention.

[0076] In one example, the small ligand attached to the nucleic acid probe is specifically recognized by an antibody-enzyme conjugate. In one embodiment of this example, digoxigenin is attached to the nucleic acid probe. Hybridization is detected by an antibody-alkaline phosphatase conjugate which turns over a chemiluminescent substrate. For methods for labeling nucleic acid probes according to this embodiment see Martin et al., 1990. In a second example, the small ligand is recognized by a second ligand-enzyme conjugate that is capable of specifically complexing to the first ligand. A well known embodiment of this example is the biotin-avidin type of interactions. For methods for labeling nucleic acid probes and their use in biotin-avidin based assays see Rigby et al., 1977 and Nguyen et al., 1992.

[0077] It is also contemplated within the scope of this invention that the nucleic acid probe assays of this invention will employ a cocktail of nucleic acid probes capable of detecting A-T. Thus, in one example to detect the presence of A-T in a cell sample, more than one probe complementary to A-T is employed and in particular the number of different probes is alternatively 2, 3, or 5 different nucleic acid probe sequences. In another example, to detect the presence of mutations in the A-T gene sequence in a patient, more than one probe complementary to A-T is employed where the cocktail includes probes capable of binding to the allele-specific mutations identified in populations of patients with alterations in A-T. In this embodiment, any number of probes can be used, and will preferably include probes corresponding to the major gene mutations identified as predisposing an individual to breast cancer.

[0078] Methods of Use: Peptide Diagnosis and Diagnostic Kits

[0079] The neoplastic condition of lesions can also be detected on the basis of the alteration of wild-type A-T polypeptide. Such alterations can be determined by sequence analysis in accordance with conventional techniques. More preferably, antibodies (polyclonal or monoclonal) are used to detect differences in, or the absence of A-T peptides. The antibodies may be prepared as discussed above under the heading "Antibodies. Other techniques for raising and purifying antibodies are well known in the art and any such techniques may be chosen to achieve the preparations claimed in this invention. In a preferred embodiment of the invention, antibodies will immunoprecipitate A-T proteins from solution as well as react with A-T protein on Western or immunoblots of polyacrylamide gels. In another preferred embodiment, antibodies will detect A-T proteins in paraffin or frozen tissue sections, using immunocytochemical techniques.

[0080] Preferred embodiments relating to methods for detecting A-T or its mutations include enzyme linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA), radioimmunoassays (RIA), immunoradiometric assays (IRMA) and immunoenzymatic assays (IEMA), including sandwich assays using monoclonal and/or polyclonal antibodies. Exemplary sandwich assays are described by David et al. in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,376,110 and 4,486,530, hereby incorporated by reference.

[0081] The present invention is described by reference to the following Examples, which are offered by way of illustration and are not intended to limit the invention in any manner. Standard techniques well known in the art or the techniques specifically described below were utilized.

EXAMPLE 1

Methods

[0082] For genotyping, we obtained DNA samples (from blood or fixed tissue) from A-T homozygotes, who are the index individuals, their nuclear families, and all available blood relatives in their extended families. Informed consent was obtained from each study participant under a protocol approved by the New York Medical College Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Human Subjects. When DNA from a grandmother was not available, but DNA from her husband was, we genotyped the grandmother as a carrier when her husband was not, and vice versa. The requisite DNA samples for determining A-T gene carrier status were available for 99 out of the 261 A-T families participating in our continuing prospective study of mortality and cancer incidence.

[0083] Using standard procedures DNA was extracted from the blood lymphocytes of the A-T family members. From paraffin-embedded tissue we directly amplified without a xylene deparaffinization step or DNA extraction (Johnson et al., 1995). Genotyping was done through CA repeat markers D11S1778 and D11S1819 (Gatti et al., 1994) closely flanking the A-T gene locus. In 15 families in which haplotypes based on these two marker loci were not fully informative, D11S1818 (Gatti et al., 1994) and D11S384 (Lench et al., 1994) were also determined. The CA-strand primer was end-labeled with (.gamma.-.sup.32P)ATP and PCR was performed using standard conditions. The PCR products were analyzed on a 6% polyacrylamide sequencing gel and autoradiographs were read after 2-4 h exposure.

[0084] In two families there was a single recombination between D11S1778 and D11S1819; in both families the haplotype of the A-T chromosome was specified uniquely by D11S384, which shows zero recombination with the A-T locus, (Lench et al., 1994) and D11S1778. Neither of these recombinations affected the genotyping of breast cancer cases. Marker determinations, haplotypes and carrier status were reviewed independently three different times. Of the 775 A-T blood relatives (not obligate heterozygotes or homozygotes) who were genotyped in 99 A-T families, 390 were found to be carriers and 385 non-carriers. The expected numbers were 397.275 and 377.725 respectively.

[0085] In the 99 genotyped families, 43 female relatives with breast cancer were identified from our previously published studies, (Swift et al., 1987; Morrell et al., 1990; Swift et al., 1991) from the retrospective data for A-T families incorporated into this study subsequent to those studies, and from our ongoing prospective observation of A-T families. Hospital records from each presumed case were reviewed, prior to knowing the carrier status of the case, to confirm the diagnosis of breast cancer. Ten cases were excluded: two with lobular in situ carcinoma, six for which the marker loci did not amplify cleanly from their tissue sample, and two whose carrier status depended directly on that of another test subject with breast cancer.

[0086] Testing the association of A-T heterozygosity with breast cancer through the index-test method requires, in A-T families, determining the A-T gene carrier status of blood relatives with previously identified breast cancers. These test relatives cannot be homozygotes or obligate heterozygotes, whose genotypes are fixed. Both the A-T gene carrier status and relationship of each breast cancer case to the proband in each family were entered into a spreadsheet that calculated the odds ratio, 95% confidence limits, and t-statistic as previously described (Swift et al., 1990a). These calculations were based on comparing the observed number of carriers to the number expected on the basis of Mendelian inheritance and the population frequency of the A-T gene. The prior probability of heterozygosity for the A-T gene is approximately 0.67 for siblings, 0.5 for aunts and grandmothers, and 0.25 for first cousins of the homozygotes. cl EXAMPLE 2

Association of A-T With Breast Cancer

[0087] In the 99 genotyped families we were able to determine the A-T gene carrier status for 26 women with breast cancer from blood samples, five from fixed tissues, and two others using DNA from the husbands. Thus, 33 breast cancer cases in 28 families were genotyped. Seventeen of these cases had been reported previously (Swift et al., 1987; Morrell et al., 1990; Swift et al., 1991). Only one of the six tissue samples for which PCR was unsuccessful came from an operation in 1980 or later, while four of the five successfully amplified specimens came from operations in 1980 or later (p=0.07).

[0088] Of the 33 women with invasive breast cancer, 25 were found to be A-T heterozygotes (Table 1). Ages at the onset of the cancers ranged from 31 to 77. These cancers were diagnosed between 1953 and 1995. Twelve of the breast cancers had occurred in aunts, 13 in grandmothers, five in great-aunts, and one in a sibling, a cousin, and a great-grandmother of an A-T proband. All eight of the non-carrier women, and 17 of the 25 A-T heterozygotes with breast cancer, were living as of Oct. 1, 1995. Five of the carrier women (20%), and two of the non-carriers (25%), had bilateral breast cancer.

1TABLE 1 Age at diagnosis for genotyped breast cancers in A-T blood relatives Age at diagnosis A-T heterozygotes Non-carriers 30-34 2 0 35-39 0 0 40-44 1 2 45-49 5 0 50-54 3 3 55-59 4 1 60-64 1 0 65-69 6 1 70-74 2 0 75-79 1 1 80+ 0 0 Total 25 8

[0089] The expected number of A-T heterozygotes in the 33 breast cancer cases was 14.9. If the cancer incidence of carriers and that of non-carriers within the same families were equal, the odds ratio would be approximately one, indicating no association. Instead, for all breast cancers in this sample the odds ratio, which estimates the relative risk of carriers compared to non-carriers, was 3.8 (95% confidence limits 1.7 -8.4; one-sided P=0.0001). For the 21 breast cancers with onset before age 60, the odds ratio was 2.9 (1.1-7.6; P=0.009) and for the 12 cases with onset at age 60 or older, the odds ratio was 6.4 (1.4-28.8; P=0.002).

[0090] The finding of 25 A-T gene carriers among 33 breast cancer cases in A-T families is compelling evidence that A-T heterozygotes are predisposed to breast cancer. There is no other explanation for this highly significant excess over the 14.9 expected on the basis of Mendelian inheritance and the A-T gene frequency. Since these data come from molecular genotyping, they are fully independent of all previous analyses of breast cancer incidence that compared blood relatives to spouse controls. While the comparison of blood relatives to spouse controls relies on how well these two groups are matched and on the fact that a high proportion of blood relatives are heterozygotes, gene carriers are identified directly with molecular genotyping in the index-test method.

[0091] The estimated relative risk, 3.8, of invasive breast cancer for A-T gene carriers compared to non-carriers is close to the most recent previous estimates from the prospective comparison of spouse controls with all blood relatives, 5.1, or with obligate heterozygotes, 3.8 (Swift et al., 1991). The large number of observed breast cancer cases in A-T blood relatives in their 30s, 40s, and 50s suggested previously that the excess breast cancer risk might be especially high for A-T heterozygotes in that age range (Swift et al., 1991). In contrast, molecular genotyping now shows that the relative risk above age 60 may be more than twice that of younger women.

[0092] The frequency of A-T heterozygotes in the United States population was estimated by maximum likelihood to be 1.4%, based on the number of families in which A-T homozygotes appeared in more than one sibship in an extended family (Swift et al., 1986). Based on this estimated heterozygote frequency and the estimated relative risks of 2.9 for breast cancers before age 60 and 6.4 for cases with onset after age 60, approximately 6.6% of all breast cancers in the United States occur in A-T heterozygotes [see Table 2]. If the risk of female A-T heterozygotes for breast cancer with onset from age 60 through age 79 is 6.4, then approximately 8.3% of all breast cancers arising in this age group occur in A-T heterozygotes.

TABLE 2

Estimated Frequencies

[0093] If the relative risk of breast cancer is 2.9 for cancers with onset before age 60, and the proportion of A-T heterozygotes in the general population is 0.014, then the ratio of breast cancer cases in A-T heterozygotes to the total number of cases with onset before age 60 is given by 1 2.9 .times. 0.014 ( 2.9 .times. 0.014 ) + ( 1 .times. 98.6 )

[0094] or 0.0395.

[0095] For breast cancers with onset at age 60 or older, the relative risk is 6.4 and the resulting proportion is 0.0833.

[0096] If 40%* of all breast cancers occur before age 60, 2 then 0.4 .times. 0.0395 = 0.01580 and 0.6 .times. 0.0833 = 0.04998 _ 0.06578 ,

[0097] which is the basis for the estimate that 6.6% of all breast cancer cases occur in A-T heterozygotes. *The figure of 40% comes from New York State vital statistics.

[0098] Two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that also predispose to breast cancer have been identified through molecular studies of families in which the risk of this cancer is very high (Szabo and King, 1995). The gene frequency of BRCA1 is much greater than that of BRCA2. In contrast to the A-T gene, the risk of breast cancer for BRCA1 gene carriers is highest at young ages; it has been estimated that the proportion of breast cancer cases in the general population due to BRCA1 is 5.3% for onset before age 40 years (Ford et al., 1995). For cases with onset ages 20-69, the estimated proportion is 1.7%. Since about 35% of all breast cancers occur after age 70 (New York State Cancer Registry, 1990), the proportion of BRCA1 carriers in all breast cancer cases is likely to be 1% or less, several fold lower than the estimated proportion of A-T gene carriers among all cases. A direct comparison of the impact of BRCA1, BRCA2, and the A-T gene on breast cancer incidence will be possible when population screening for mutations at these loci becomes practical.

[0099] The estimated relative risk of 3.8 is based on breast cancers that occurred in the United States between 1953 and 1995. However, the risk for A-T heterozygotes may vary with different environmental conditions or the genetic composition of a population. Since it will be valuable to attempt to replicate our findings as soon as possible, the risk estimate from our sample of persons of European origin could be compared to an independent estimate readily available through the A-T family registries already established in Europe (Pippard et al., 1988; Borressen et al., 1990; Chessa et al., 1994; Stoppa-Lyonnet et al., 1992). It will also be of great interest to collect family medical data and DNA samples in Africa and Asia to measure this risk in non-European populations.

[0100] Previously we found evidence that exposure to certain medical diagnostic X-ray procedures increased the risk of breast cancer for blood relatives in A-T families (Swift et al., 1987; Morrell et al., 1990). If breast cancer with onset above age 60 is more closely associated with A-T heterozygosity than earlier onset breast cancer, as our present data demonstrate, the difference may be explained by increasing exposure to medical diagnostic X-ray procedures with advancing age. Since some of the blood relatives with breast cancer in previous studies may have been non-carriers, we plan to re-examine this issue through a case-control analysis in which the X-ray exposures of identified carriers with breast cancer will be compared to that in matched carrier controls. We plan also to compare the histopathology or survival of A-T gene carriers with breast cancer to that of non-carriers within the same families. There are no data showing that bilateral breast cancer is more frequent among A-T heterozygotes than among non-carriers.

[0101] Unlike previous comparisons of blood relatives to spouse controls, these molecular findings cannot be explained by undetected confounders or unintended bias. No confounder can affect the result of the index-test method, since each individual's genotype is fixed at the time of conception. Unintended bias is implausible because the cases were selected, before genotyping, by the single criterion of having hospital record confirmation of breast cancer. The blood relatives did not know their own carrier status at the time they contributed blood samples. If carriers were more likely, because of some behavioral effect of the A-T gene, to contribute blood samples for genotyping than non-carriers, the proportion of carriers and non-carriers among all genotyped blood relatives in these 99 A-T families would have deviated significantly from the expected proportion. Further, it is not possible that more samples were available from breast cancer cases who are carriers because they survive longer, since the proportion of living cases was higher among the non-carriers. If there were an undetected breast cancer risk factor in the genotyped families, it would have affected breast cancer incidence in carriers and non-carriers equally and randomly. It is unlikely that the ability to PCR from stored fixed tissue influenced our result, since this appeared to be a function simply of the length of time specimens were stored.

[0102] Carrier determination through highly informative flanking haplotypes was reliable, since we detected no recombination between the closest markers and the A-T locus. Currently available methods for screening for mutations at this locus are tedious and costly, and seem to detect only 50-60% of all such mutations (Savitsky et al., 1995; Byrd et al., 1996; Gilad et al., 1996; Telatar et al., 1996). When population screening for A-T heterozygosity becomes practical, A-T heterozygotes found through such screening could be the index individuals for population based assessments, using the index-test method, of the risk of breast cancer for female A-T heterozygotes.

[0103] The A-T alleles segregating in the study families are a random sample of A-T alleles in the general population, since the only distinctive feature of the study families is that two heterozygotes met and had an offspring affected by ataxia-telangiectasia. Families in which this gene is segregating are ideal for testing hypothesized gene-disease associations, since there is natural matching for important risk factors between carriers and non-carriers in these families. It will be of considerable interest to measure the proportion of A-T heterozygotes among breast cancer patients in different populations when population screening is possible. However, comparing these proportions to the general population heterozygote frequency will be less reliable than the index-test method as a test of A-T heterozygote cancer predisposition because of the well-known difficulty in matching populations for confounders, such as ethnicity or social class, that affect both the A-T heterozygote frequency and breast cancer incidence.

[0104] Now that the excess risk of breast cancer for A-T heterozygotes has been measured using molecular genotyping and the index-test method, it is imperative to understand the molecular actions of the A-T gene and to identify the environmental and other genetic factors that interact with it to produce cancer.

EXAMPLE 3

Identification of Mutations by Heteroduplex Analysis

[0105] Heteroduplex analysis of two of the heterozygous carriers with breast cancer reported above was used to identify two mutations. For heteroduplex analysis each exon of the A-T gene was amplified by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using as template genomic DNA from the test subject and primers based on the known A-T gene sequence. The PCR product was then run on an MDE gel which detects heteroduplexes due to differences between the PCR products from the subject's two chromosomes. If there are no differences, then only a single band is seen and there is no sequence variation in that exon in that subject. When an additional band is seen, the PCR products were cloned so that DNA from each chromosome was sequenced. The mutation was verified by comparison of the variant sequence to the known sequence of that exon in the A-T gene (Savitsky et al., 1995a; Savitsky et al., 1995b; Platzer et al., 1997). Further confirmation of the mutation was obtained by sequencing the same exon in close relatives of the subject. With this technique, mutations were identified in the two heterozygotes. The first mutation seen was the nucleotide change ATC.fwdarw.TGAT at base 3245, codon 1082 in exon 24. The second mutation seen was a deletion of 150 basepairs beginning at nucleotide 8269 of codon 2757, leading to the deletion of exon 59. The first mutation predicts a truncation of the protein and the second predicts a deletion of 50 amino acids.

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