DALLAS July 6, 2008 Tiny strands of genetic material called RNA a chemical cousin of DNA are emerging as major players in gene regulation, the process inside cells that drives all biology and that scientists seek to control in order to fight disease.
The idea that RNA (ribonucleic acid) is involved in activating and inhibiting genes is relatively new, and it has been unclear how RNA strands might regulate the process.
In a new study available online today and in a future issue of Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, RNA experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center found that, contrary to established theories, RNA can interact with a non-gene region of DNA called a promoter region, a sequence of DNA occurring spatially in front of an actual gene. This promoter must be activated before a gene can be turned on.
"Our findings about the underlying mechanisms of RNA-activated gene expression reveal a new and unexpected target for potential drug development," said Dr. David Corey, professor of pharmacology and biochemistry at UT Southwestern and one of the senior authors of the study.
Genes are segments of DNA housed in the nucleus of every cell, and they carry instructions for making proteins. Faulty or mutated genes lead to malfunctioning, missing or overabundant proteins, and any of those conditions can result in disease. Scientists seek to understand the mechanisms by which genes are activated, or expressed, and turned off in order to get a clearer picture of basic cell biology and also to develop medical therapies that affect gene expression.
In previous studies, Dr. Corey and Dr. Bethany Janowski, assistant professor of pharmacology at UT Southwestern and a senior author of the current study, have shown that tiny strands of RNA can be used to activate certain genes in cultured cancer cells. Using strands of RNA that they manufactured in the lab, the researchers showed that the strands regulate ge
|Contact: Amanda Siegfried|
UT Southwestern Medical Center