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Large DNA stretches, not single genes, shut off as cells mature
Date:1/18/2009

ls. The same cell types in both organisms had remarkably similar regions of DNA silenced by LOCKs, suggesting that the same genes necessary to control cell function are affected in mice and people.

"These results suggest that LOCKs appear gradually during development, refining cells' functions as they differentiate into particular cell types," Wen says. "Our experiments suggest that the whole forest of genes is changing, but people have been looking at the individual trees."

Because epigenetic changes also are known to play a role in abnormal cell growth, the researchers suspected that LOCKs were involved in the development of cancer. When they looked for genes in several common cancer cell lines often used in research, they indeed found significantly fewer LOCKs than in normal liver and brain cells.

"In cancer, some of these LOCKs may become unlocked," says Feinberg. "Sections of DNA that were silenced in a cell type might become active, giving cancer cells characteristics of other cell types that they're not supposed to have."

Feinberg says this "unlocking" might cause cancer cells to revert to a more immature developmental state, explaining some of their unusual behavior, such as extreme proliferation or migration to different areas of the body.


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Contact: Christen Brownlee
cbrownlee@jhmi.edu
410-955-7832
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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