Longevity gene in golden retrievers related to human cancer gene
Exploring the genetic factors that make golden retrievers more susceptible to cancer than other dog breeds, researchers identified a gene associated with longevity that’s related to a gene that causes cancer cells to grow quickly in humans. The discovery has the potential to help our furry besties and us.
Outgoing, trustworthy, eager-to-please, and relatively easy to train. These characteristics make golden retrievers a favorite amongst dog owners. Sadly, naturally occurring cancer is the leading cause of death in pet dogs, and, in that regard, the breed got the short end of the stick (pun intended), carrying an up to 65% chance of dying from cancer.
Researchers from UC Davis examined the golden retriever’s genetic makeup to determine if certain genetic factors might help their survival. However, instead of looking at the genes associated with cancer, they looked at those associated with longer life.
“We assume that the majority of golden retrievers have a genetic predisposition to cancer, but if some of them are living to be 14, 15 or 16, we thought there could be another genetic factor that is helping the mitigate the bad genes, and the gene that popped out for us is HER4,” said Robert Rebhun, lead and corresponding author of the study.
HER4, also known as ERBB4, is a member of the family of human epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptors. It’s in the same family as HER2, a human gene well-known for making cancer cells grow quickly.
More than 300 golden retrievers were involved in the study. The researchers compared the DNA from blood samples of dogs alive at 14 to those that died before 12. They found that dogs with certain variants of the HER4 gene survived longer, on average, living to 13.5 years compared to 11.6 years for those without.
“Almost two years is a significant difference in a dog’s life,” said Danika Bannasch, the study’s co-corresponding author. “Wouldn’t we all want our beloved pets to live another two years? Two years in goldens is about a 15-20% increase in lifespan, the equivalent of 12-14 years in humans.”
The researchers also found that the gene variant seemed to be most important to the longevity of female dogs compared to males. HER4 has been shown to interact with hormones like estrogen and may also play a role in processing environmental toxins. The findings are just part of the puzzle of what causes golden retrievers to be more susceptible to cancer.
“There are going to be many genes involved, but the fact that the gene associated with longevity is also a gene involved in cancer was really interesting to us,” Bannasch said.
Because dogs get many of the same types of cancer as humans, the discovery is important for us, too.
“If we find that this variant in HER4 is important either in the formation or progression of cancer in golden retrievers or if it can actually modify a cancer risk in this cancer-predisposed population, that may be something that can be used in future cancer studies in humans,” Rebhun said.
The next step for the researchers is to study a larger population of golden retrievers to see if the results can be reproduced and to discover how this genetic variant impacts gene expression or function.
The study was published in the journal GeroScience.
Source: UC Davis