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How can identical twins be genetically different?

he advantage of studying twins is that they start out with the exact same genetic information. Therefore, differences in gene expression are attributable to different environmental factors rather than genetics. Such factors could cause a random genetic mutation or affects how DNA is packaged.

"There's a lot of variability in the severity of the disease, symptoms, and the response a patient will have to treatment. Differences in the expression of genes caused by environmental factors that modify DNA have a lot to do with this variability," says Holoshitz.

The most significantly over-expressed of the three genes codes for a protein called laeverin. This is an enzyme that destroys certain types of proteins. Scientists hypothesize that laeverin promotes the tissue damage of the joint found in RA by degrading cartilage and bone.

Another previously unidentified gene codes for a protein called 11â-HSD2 that helps deactivate the hormone cortisol. This hormone is involved in the response to stress and also has anti-inflammatory effects. The discovery that 11â-HSD2 is over-expressed in patients may explain a common characteristic of RA patients.

"It has been known for a long time that there is a deficiency of cortisol in RA patients," says Holoshitz.

The third gene U-M scientists discovered codes for Cyr61, which plays a role in angiogenesis, a process that recruits new blood vessels to an area.

In the early stages of RA, the tissue in the joint begins to grow and divide similarly to a benign tumor. The growing mass, which secretes proteins that degrade tissue, uses angiogenesis to recruit new blood vessels to supply it with nutrients. The angiogenic factor Cyr61 could be involved with this process.

"This paper describes only a glimpse of what this approach might reveal. There are many other categories of genes where expression varies between twins. We are just beginning to understand how RA is able to affect peo
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Source:University of Michigan Health System


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