Here is a missing link story that won't make evolutionary biologists crazy. Epigenetics is the most recent craze in science media discussions of biology, it analyzes specific patterns of chemical tags that overlay the DNA structure, determining how tightly the DNA is packaged and how accessible certain genes are to be switched on or off. Epigenetics shows us that the genetic code held within DNA represents only part of the blueprint of life. Because it is not understood, we even get speculation that voting preferences can be framed in termed of epigenetics, like in the brain. Yes, some argue that you can literally claim your political opposition is brain damaged because they don't agree with you about banning GMOs or gay marriage.
More seriously, as researchers have uncovered more and more epigenetic tags, they have begun to wonder how they are all connected. Research from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine has established the first link between the two most fundamental epigenetic tags, histone modification and DNA methylation, in humans. The study implicates the protein UHRF1 in the maintenance of these epigenetic tags. Because the protein has been found to be defective in cancer, the finding could help scientists understand not only how microscopic chemical changes can ultimately affect the epigenetic landscape but also give clues to the underlying causes of disease and cancer.
Mouse embryonic stem cells (blue, green) lose DNA methylation (red) in the absence of UHRF1.
Credit: Strahl Lab, UNC School of Medicine
"There's always been the suspicion that regions marked by DNA methylation might be connected to other epigenetic tags like histone modifications, and that has even been shown to be true in model organisms like fungus and plants," said senior study author Brian Strahl, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the UNC School of Medicine and a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. "But no one has been able to make that leap in human cells. It's been controversial in terms of whether or not there's really a connection. We have shown there is."
Strahl, along with his postdoctoral fellow Scott Rothbart, honed in on this discovery by using a highly sophisticated technique developed in his lab known as next generation peptide arrays. First the Strahl lab generated specific types of histone modifications and dotted them on tiny glass slides called "arrays." They then used these "arrays" to see how histone modifications affected the docking of different proteins. One protein – UHRF1 – stood out because it bound a specific histone modification (lysine 9 methylation on histone H3) in cases where others could not.
Strahl and his colleagues focused the rest of their experiments on understanding the role of UHRF1 binding to this histone modification. They found that while other proteins that dock on this epigenetic tag are ejected during a specific phase of the cell cycle, mitosis, UHRF1 sticks around. Importantly, the protein's association with histones throughout the cell cycle appears to be critical to maintaining another epigenetic tag called DNA methylation. The result was surprising because researchers had previously believed that the maintenance of DNA methylation occurred exclusively during a single step of the cell cycle called DNA replication.
"This role of UHRF1 outside of DNA replication is certainly unexpected, but I think it is just another way of making sure we don't lose information about our epigenetic landscape," said Strahl.
Published in Nature Structural&Molecular Biology
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Are Think Tanks More Credible To Government Employees? Not Really
- The Daily Physics Problem - 1
- Hugh Hefner's Wife Was Not Poisoned By Breast Implants
- Why Has Climate Change Taken So Long?
- Odds of Intelligent life on the TRAPPIST-1 planets : NOT Great.
- Book News And A Clip
- Neural Networks: Why Human Brains Are More Susceptible To Mental Illness Than Smaller Ones
- "High -x means that we are in the tail of the PDF function. Which means low statistics since it..."
- "I cannot see the gluon PDF uncertainty which is the largest in high-x if I remember correctly?..."
- "nuclear power industry is also subsidized by the federal gov't...."
- "Please be patient. Despite what the Nibiru fearmongers say, I'm not paid to do this (if only :)..."
- "Dear Tilly,Great, glad to have helped.With the contrails, well one factor surely is that we have..."
- Parasite proteins prompt immune system to fight off ovarian tumors in mice
- Behavioral activation as effective as CBT for depression, at lower cost
- The Lancet: Simpler, cheaper psychological treatment as effective as cognitive behavioural therapy for treating depression
- Ultrasensitive sensor using N-doped graphene
- Brain activity and response to food cues differ in severely obese women, UTSW study shows