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A Novel Technique Nudges Genes Into Activity

g or over-abundant proteins, and any of those conditions can result in disease.

Surrounding the chromosome is a cloud of proteins that helps determine whether or not a particular gene’s instructions are "read" and "copied" to strands of messenger RNA, which then ferry the plans to protein-making "factories" in the cell.

In its experiments, the UT Southwestern team used strands of RNA that were tailor-made to complement the DNA sequence of a specific gene in isolated breast cancer cells. Once the RNA was introduced into the protein mix, the gene was activated, ultimately resulting in a reduced rate of growth in the cancer cells.

Dr. Corey said that while it’s clear the activating effects of the new technique are occurring at the chromosome level, and not at the messenger RNA level, more research is needed to understand the exact mechanism.

Although the RNA strands the researchers introduced – dubbed antigene RNA – were manufactured, Dr. Corey said the process by which they interact with the chromosome appears to mimic what naturally happens in the body.

"One of the reasons why these synthetic strands work so well is that we’re just adapting a natural mechanism to help deliver a man-made molecule," Dr. Corey said. "We’re working with nature, rather than against it."

Drs. Corey’s and Janowski’s current results are built on previous work, published in 2005 in Nature Chemical Biology, in which they found that RNA strands could turn off gene expression at the chromosome level.

The new UT Southwestern research, coupled with that from 2005, demonstrates a shift away from conventional thinking about how gene expression is naturally controlled, as well as how scientists might be able to exploit the process to develop new drug targets, Dr. Corey said.

For example, current methods to block gene expression, such as RNA interference, rely on using RNA strands to intercept and bind with messenger RNA
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