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In scientific first, researchers visualize naturally occurring mRNA

In a technique that could eventually shed light on how gene expression influences human disease, scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have for the first time ever successfully visualized single molecules of naturally-occurring messenger RNA (mRNA) transcribed in living mammalian cells. The scientific achievement is detailed in the January 16 online edition of Nature Methods.

Gene expression involves transcribing a gene's DNA into molecules of mRNA. These molecules then migrate from a cell's nucleus into the cytoplasm, where they serve as blueprints for protein construction.

Robert Singer, Ph.D., codirector of the Gruss Lipper Biophotonics Center and professor and cochair of anatomy and structural biology, was senior author of the paper. Working with his colleagues, he generated a transgenic mouse in which genes coding for the structural protein beta actin would, when expressed, yield fluorescently labeled mRNA. Beta actin mRNA is a highly expressed molecule found in all mammalian tissues.

The technique used by the Einstein researchers should be applicable for monitoring the expression of any gene of interest. Prior to this study, Einstein researchers had monitored mRNA molecules transcribed by artificial genes.

"Our report is the first demonstration that our technique can be used to visualize the expression of an essential gene in mammalian cells," said Timothée Lionnet, Ph.D., a research fellow in Dr. Singer's lab and lead author of the Nature Methods paper. "We can study beta actin RNA molecules over their life cycle in a variety of cell types and discover where they are distributed within the cell. This has important consequences for human disease like cancer, since the way molecules of mRNA are localized within tumor cells correlates with the ability of these cells to spread, or metastasize."

The study, "A transgenic mouse for in vivo detection of endogenous labeled mRNA," will be published in the January 16 online edition of Nature Methods. Other Einstein scientists involved in the study were Kevin Czaplinski, Amber Wells, Ph.D., Jeffrey Chao, Ph.D., Hye Yoon Park, Valeria de Turris and Melissa Lopez-Jones.

About Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University

Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University is one of the nation's premier centers for research, medical education and clinical investigation. During the 2009-2010 academic year, Einstein is home to 722 M.D. students, 243 Ph.D. students, 128 students in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program, and approximately 350 postdoctoral research fellows. The College of Medicine has 2,775 fulltime faculty members located on the main campus and at its clinical affiliates. In 2009, Einstein received more than $155 million in support from the NIH. This includes the funding of major research centers at Einstein in diabetes, cancer, liver disease, and AIDS. Other areas where the College of Medicine is concentrating its efforts include developmental brain research, neuroscience, cardiac disease, and initiatives to reduce and eliminate ethnic and racial health disparities. Through its extensive affiliation network involving five medical centers in the Bronx, Manhattan and Long Island - which includes Montefiore Medical Center, The University Hospital and Academic Medical Center for Einstein - the College of Medicine runs one of the largest post-graduate medical training programs in the United States, offering approximately 150 residency programs to more than 2,500 physicians in training. For more information, please visit

Kim Newman | EurekAlert!
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