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Scientists reveal how epigenetic changes in DNA are interpreted

Jussi Taipale_Yimeng Yin

A new study in Science from Karolinska Institutet maps out how different DNA-binding proteins in human cells react to certain biochemical modifications of the DNA molecule.

The scientists report that some ‘master’ regulatory proteins can activate regions of the genome that are normally inactive due to epigenetic changes. Their findings contribute to a better understanding of gene regulation, embryonic development and the processes leading to diseases such as cancer.

By analysing hundreds of different human transcription factors, researchers have now found that certain transcription factors actually prefer the methylated Ç. These include transcription factors that are important in embryonic development, and for the development of prostate and colorectal cancers.

“The results suggest that such ‘master’ regulatory factors could activate regions of the genome that are normally inactive, leading to the formation of organs during development, or the initiation of pathological changes in cells that lead to diseases such as cancer”, says Professor Jussi Taipale at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics who led the research.

The results pave the way for cracking the genetic code that controls the expression of genes, and will have broad implications for the understanding of development and disease. The availability of genomic information relevant to disease is expanding at an exponentially increasing rate.

“This study identifies how the modification of the DNA structure affects the binding of transcription factors, and this increases our understanding of how genes are regulated in cells and further aids us in deciphering the grammar written into DNA”, says Professor Taipale.

Jussi Taipale & Yimeng Yin. Photographer: Ulf Sirborn. 

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