Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scripps Research Institute Scientists Find the Structure of a Key ‘Gene Silencer’ Protein

27.04.2012
The structure reveals potential therapeutic targets in area with ‘untapped potential’
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have determined the three-dimensional atomic structure of a human protein that is centrally involved in regulating the activities of cells. Knowing the precise structure of this protein paves the way for scientists to understand a process known as RNA-silencing and to harness it to treat diseases.

“Biologists have known about RNA-silencing for only a decade or so, but it’s already clear that there’s an enormous untapped potential here for new therapies,” said Ian MacRae, an assistant professor at Scripps Research and senior author of the new report.

The new report, which appeared on April 26, 2012 in the journal Science’s advance online publication, Science Express, focuses on Argonaute2. This protein can effectively “silence” a gene by intercepting and slicing the gene’s RNA transcripts before they are translated into working proteins.
Interception and Destruction of Messages

When a gene that codes for a protein is active in a cell, its information is transcribed from DNA form into lengths of nucleic acid called messenger RNA (mRNA). If all goes well, these coded mRNA signals make their way to the cell’s protein-factories, which use them as templates to synthesize new proteins. RNA-silencing, also called RNA interference (RNAi), is the interception and destruction of these messages—and as such, is a powerful and specific regulator of cell activity, as well as a strong defender against viral genes.

The silencing process requires not only an Argonaute protein but also a small length of guide RNA, known as a short-interfering RNA or microRNA. The guide RNA fits into a slot on Argonaute and serves as a target recognition device. Like a coded strip of VelcroTM, it latches onto a specific mRNA target whose sequence is the chemical mirror image, or “complement,” of its own—thus bringing Argonaute into contact with its doomed prey.

Argonaute2 is not the only type of human Argonaute protein, but it seems to be the only one capable of destroying target RNA directly. “If the guide RNA is completely complementary to the target RNA, Argonaute2 will cleave the mRNA, and that will elicit the degradation of the fragments and the loss of the genetic message,” said Nicole Schirle, the graduate student in MacRae’s laboratory who was lead author of the paper.

Aimed at disease-causing genes or even a cell’s own overactive guide RNAs, RNA-silencing could be a powerful therapeutic weapon. In principle, one needs only to inject target-specific guide RNAs, and these will link up with Argonaute proteins in cells to find and destroy the target RNAs. Scientists have managed to do this successfully with relatively accessible target cells, such as in the eye. But they have found it difficult to develop guide RNAs that can get from the bloodstream into distant tissues and still function.
“You have to modify the guide RNA, in some way to get it through the blood and into cells, but as soon as you start modifying it, you disrupt its ability to interact with Argonaute,” said MacRae. Knowing the precise structure of Argonaute should enable researchers to clear this hurdle by designing better guide RNA.

More Points for Manipulation

Previous structural studies have focused mostly on Argonaute proteins from bacteria and other lower organisms, which have key differences from their human counterparts. Schirle was able to produce the comparatively large and complex human Argonaute2 and to manipulate it into forming crystals for X-ray crystallography analysis—a feat that structural biologists have wanted to achieve for much of the past decade. “It was just excellent and diligent crystallography on her part,” said MacRae.

The team’s analysis of Argonaute2’s structure revealed that it has the same basic set of working parts as bacterial Argonaute proteins, except that they are arranged somewhat differently. Also, key parts of Argonaute2 have extra loops and other structures, not seen on bacterial versions, which may play roles in binding to guide RNA. Finally, Argonaute2 has what appear to be binding sites for additional co-factor proteins that are thought to perform other destructive operations on the target mRNA.
“Basically, this Argonaute protein is more sophisticated than its bacterial cousins; it has more bells and whistles, which give us more points for manipulation. With this structure solved, we no longer need to use the prokaryotic structures to guess at what human Argonaute proteins look like,” MacRae said.

He and Schirle and others in the lab now are analyzing the functions of Argonaute2’s substructures, as well as looking for ways to design better therapeutic guide RNAs.

“Now with the structural data, we can see what synthetic guide RNAs will work with Argonaute and what won’t,” MacRae said. “We might even be able to make guide RNAs that can outcompete natural ones.”

The research that led to Schirle and MacRae’s new paper, “The Crystal Structure of Human Argonaute2,” was funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.

About The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world's largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. Over the past decades, Scripps Research has developed a lengthy track record of major contributions to science and health, including laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. The institute employs about 3,000 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists—including three Nobel laureates—work toward their next discoveries. The institute's graduate program, which awards Ph.D. degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. For more information, see www.scripps.edu.
For information:
Office of Communications
Tel: 858-784-8134
Fax: 858-784-8136
press@scripps.edu

Mika Ono | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.scripps.edu

Further reports about: Argonaute Argonaute proteins MacRae Protein RNA RNA-silencing protein structures

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Closing the carbon loop
08.12.2016 | University of Pittsburgh

nachricht Newly discovered bacteria-binding protein in the intestine
08.12.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Closing the carbon loop

08.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Applicability of dynamic facilitation theory to binary hard disk systems

08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Scientists track chemical and structural evolution of catalytic nanoparticles in 3-D

08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>