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Synthetic circuit allows dialing gene expression up or down in human cells
Date:2/12/2013

HOUSTON - Scientists who built a synthetic gene circuit that allowed for the precise tuning of a gene's expression in yeast have now refined this new research tool to work in human cells, according to research published online in Nature Communications.

"Using this circuit, you can turn a gene from completely off to completely on and anywhere between those two extremes in each cell at once. It's a nice tool if you want to know what happens at intermediate levels of gene expression. There has been no such system so far, but now it is available for mammalian cell research," said senior author Gbor Balzsi, Ph.D., associate professor in The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Department of Systems Biology.

Present options for altering gene expression in human cells are blunt instruments by comparison. Knocking out a gene eliminates its expression completely. Inhibiting it with RNA interference dials it partially down and can affect other genes. Inserting a gene expression vector into cells overexpresses the gene, but it's usually uncontrolled. Commercially available versions can switch a gene on or off, but cannot precisely dial between these extremes.

"For cancer research, the system will allow scientists to test the boundaries of a gene known to confer resistance to a drug in cancer cells by dialing its expression to different levels and treating the cells with the drug," said first author Dmitry Nevozhay, M.D. Ph.D., instructor in Systems Biology.

"Likewise, such a system would allow personalized gene therapy, by precisely tuning the therapeutic gene level expression depending on disease progression and the patient's need," Nevozhay said.

In microbial or yeast biology research scientists have started to understand and manipulate gene function quantitatively, almost like we understand electronic circuits, Balzsi said. "This makes research in those areas more amenable to engineering and mathemati
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Contact: Scott Merville
smerville@mdanderson.org
713-792-0661
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Source:Eurekalert  

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