In exploring how proteins interact with crucial DNA sequences to regulate gene activity, researchers have shed light on key biological events that may eventually be manipulated to provide new disease treatments.
Within a cell's nucleus, regulatory elements in DNA called promoters and enhancers communicate with each other in carrying out gene activity, often over large genomic distances, hundreds of thousands of chemical bases apart from each other in chromosomes. As these elements physically contact each other, the intervening DNA sequences bend into loops made of chromatin fiberthe substance of chromosomes.
"Many researchers, including ourselves, have shown that chromatin looping is widespread during gene expression," said study leader Gerd A. Blobel, M.D., Ph.D., holder of the Frank E. Weise III Endowed Chair in Pediatric Hematology at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "However, many details remain uncertaineven whether chromatin loops are a cause or effect of gene transcription. Our current study investigated some of these fundamental questions."
Blobel and first author Wulan Deng, a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania, are publishing their study in the June 8, 2012 print edition of Cell.
The study focused on gene transcriptionthe fundamental process by which information encoded in a gene's DNA is converted into RNA before the RNA information is translated into a protein.
Blobel and Deng used blood-forming cells in mice, studying a portion of DNA called the beta-globin locus that expresses part of the hemoglobin molecule. The study team already knew that a chromatin loop forms when a distant enhancer touches the promoter in the beta-globin gene and gives rise to gene expression. They did not know all the proteins that were necessary to generate chromatin loops, nor exactly how such proteins functionally interact with other proteins during gene transcription.
The study tea
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Children's Hospital of Philadelphia