Their findings, which shed light on the pathways that allow the noncancerous tumors to develop, were reported today in PLoS One.
Fibroids can cause heavy bleeding, anemia, pain and infertility. They affect a quarter of all women, and are the most common cause of hysterectomy in the United States, said senior author Aleksandar Rajkovic, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, Pitt School of Medicine, and MWRI investigator.
“Medical therapies for fibroids have had little success because we don’t really understand how or why they develop,” he explained. “Our first step to unraveling this process was to determine if there are differences between the genes of fibroid cells and those of the neighboring normal tissue.”
Using sophisticated technology to sequence the genome, the research team examined both fibroid and healthy uterine tissue from five women who had hysterectomies. They found that three of them had fibroids with mutations in a gene called MED12 that, like the conductor of an orchestra, tells other genes what to do, Dr. Rajkovic said.
They then checked for MED12 mutation in 143 uterine fibroids of different individuals obtained from a biobank and found them in two-thirds of the samples. Normal uterine tissue samples did not contain mutations.
“This means that something happens in the uterus that causes MED12 mutation that in turn leads to the growth and formation of the fibroid tumor,” Dr. Rajkovic said. “We don’t know what causes the gene alteration, but we can now target the activity of MED12 pathway genes and proteins to see if we can abolish fibroid growth so that one day women might be able to avoid surgical treatment of fibroids.”
The researchers also are looking for other mutations that could explain fibroid development in the other third of patients.
Co-authors include Megan McGuire, Alexander Yatsenko, M.D., Ph.D., Lori Hoffner, and Urvashi Surti, Ph.D., all of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and MWRI; and Mirka Jones, M.D., of Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.