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A little tag with a large effect
Date:2/4/2013

February 4, 2013, New York, NY and Oxford, UK Nearly every cell in the human body carries a copy of the full human genome. So how is it that the cells that detect light in the human eye are so different from those of, say, the beating heart or the spleen?

The answer, of course, is that each type of cell selectively expresses only a unique suite of genes, actively silencing those that are irrelevant to its function. Scientists have long known that one way in which such gene-silencing occurs is by the chemical modification of cytosineone of the four bases of DNA that write the genetic codeto create an "epigenetic" marker known as 5-methylcytosine (5mC). Appropriate placement of this marker is essential to many normal biological processes, not least embryonic development. Conversely, its erroneous distribution contributes to the evolution of a broad range of cancers.

But 5mC is not the only epigenetic marker on the genomic block. About three years ago at Rockefeller University, Skirmantas Kriaucionis, currently a Ludwig researcher based at Oxford University, and Nathaniel Heintz, of Rockefeller University, discovered that a second modification of cytosine that converts it into 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC) seems to play a similarly vital role in the selective expression of the genome. Since then, researchers have scrambled to figure out what precisely that role might be. In a recent issue of the journal Cell, Heintz, Kriaucionis and colleagues report that the 5hmC marker has an effect on gene expression opposite to that of 5mC, and identify how its signal is detected and broadly interpreted in the healthy brain cells of mice. Since changes in the distribution of 5hmC are known to take place in a broad range of tumor cells, these findings could prove to be of great value to cancer research.

To begin, the team mapped where exactly 5hmC is found across the genomes of three types of healthy mouse neural cells. They discovered that
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Contact: Rachel Steinhardt
rsteinhardt@licr.org
212-450-1582
Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2 3

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