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Scientists discover how leukemia cells exploit 'enhancer' DNA elements to cause lethal disease
Date:11/26/2013

ene is so uniquely sensitive to targeting with a new class of drugs being developed for leukemia." The Vakoc lab in 2011 discovered a novel therapeutic strategy to shut off Myc in cancer, an approach now being tested in phase 1 clinical trials.

Vakoc and Junwei Shi, a graduate student in the Vakoc lab and lead author on the new paper, identified the SWI/SNF protein complex in an experiment that searched for proteins that stop AML disease progression while still allowing healthy cells to grow normally. In collaboration with Professor Richard Young from the Whitehead Institute, they worked to determine where in the genome SWI/SNF attaches to DNA. That's when they discovered its binding to the enhancer element located 1.7 million bases away from the Myc gene.

Intriguingly, this enhancer occupies a spot in the genome that Vakoc's team found was most often abnormally duplicated in AML cells. "We usually look for duplicated genes in cancer," Vakoc says. "But this is the first time we've ever seen DNA for an enhancer, rather than for a gene, being a common duplication in a cancer type."

In mechanical terms, how does SWI/SNF exert control over Myc? Vakoc collaborated with CSHL Professor David Spector to determine how the DNA at the Myc gene is folded and organized within the nucleus. Surprisingly, when the SWI/SNF complex binds to the enhancer, it reorganizes DNA in the nucleus so that this region comes in contact with Myc, enabling it to regulate Myc expression.

This happens only in leukemia, meaning the enhancer is unique. The work thus identifies an important mechanism that enables leukemia to proliferate. This in turn explains how leukemia drugs that have recently been discovered exert their beneficial effect. One notable example is a drug called JQ1 that Vakoc identified in 2011 as an inhibitor of a cancer-promoting protein called Brd4, which plays a pivotal role in the AML disease process. JQ1 likely blocks the interaction
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Contact: Jaclyn Jansen
jjansen@cshl.edu
516-367-8455
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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