NYU Langone Medical Center researchers have developed a powerful new method to investigate the discrete steps necessary to turn on individual genes and examine how the process goes wrong in cancer and other diseases. The finding, based on seven years of research and described in the April 9 issue of Molecular Cell, allows scientists to investigate the unfolding of DNA, a process required for gene activation.
"The new methodology allows us to examine the steps that turn on individual genes in order to figure out what part of the process breaks down in diseases like cancer, " says Danny Reinberg, PhD, professor of biochemistry at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, who led the study. "Right now we have the book with a lot of chapters. The idea now is to read each of those chapters and analyze how things happen. After that, we can start devising assays to test for steps or molecules we want to target," says Dr. Reinberg, who has been studying the molecular processes governing how genetic information is transferred for more than 20 years. He is a leader in the field of epigenetics, which probes the modifications that control when genes are expressed, many of which are linked to a wide variety of diseases.
DNA, in its simplest form, is a long double-stranded helix. Inside the cell's nucleus, however, the helix is further twisted and wrapped around protein complexes to form much more compact fibers called chromatin. For example, chromosome 22, one of the smallest human chromosomes, would be about 1.5 centimeters long as a simple DNA helix, but twisted around the protein complexes, it is just two micrometers, a 10,000-fold compression.
However, the degree of compaction is dynamic and is part of the way cells control gene transcription. When a gene is inactive, its chromatin is packed together more tightly than when the gene is actively transcribed. Although scientists have known abo
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NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine