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Study gives clue as to how notes are played on the genetic piano
Date:5/12/2011

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, U.S.A. (May 12, 2011) Japanese and U.S. scientists in the young field of epigenetics Thursday reported a rationale as to how specific genes are silenced and others are not. Because this effect can be reversed, it may be possible to devise therapies for cancer and other diseases using this information.

The NOVA U.S. public television program described epigenetics as "The Ghost In Your Genes." It is the study of changes in gene expression that occur without changes in DNA sequence. Like keys on a piano, DNA is the static blueprint for all the proteins that cells produce. Epigenetic information provides additional dynamic or flexible instructions as to how, where and when the blueprint will be used. "It corresponds to a pianist playing a piece of music," said Kohzoh Mitsuya, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.

Article in Science

The study by Dr. Mitsuya and colleagues is outlined in the May 13 issue of the journal Science. The team found that a small RNA pathway is required to establish an epigenetic modification called DNA methylation at a gene that codes for mammalian proteins. DNA methylation adds chemical tags called methyl groups to specific genes, usually silencing their expression.

"DNA methylation marks are reversible, so there is great interest in devising therapeutic strategies, for instance in cancer biology, to epigenetically reactivate silenced tumor-suppressor genes or inactivate specific oncogenes in human cancer cells," Dr. Mitsuya, the Science paper's third author, said. The lead author is Toshiaki Watanabe, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Genetics in Japan and Yale University.

Environment and cancer

Beyond being reversible, DNA methylation is susceptible to environmental influences. Many cancer biologists now agree that changes in DNA methylation might
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Contact: Will Sansom
sansom@uthscsa.edu
210-567-2579
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
Source:Eurekalert  

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