Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Strangled cells condense their DNA


Scientists at the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) have been able to see, for the first time, the dramatic changes that occur in the DNA of cells that are starved of oxygen and nutrients. This starved state is typical in some of today’s most common diseases, particularly heart attacks, stroke and cancer. The findings provide new insight into the damage these diseases cause and may help researchers to discover new ways of treating them.

When a person has a heart attack or stroke, the blood supply to part of their heart or brain is blocked. This deprives affected cells there of oxygen and nutrients (a condition known as ischaemia) and can cause long-term damage, meaning that the person may never fully recover.

Figure 1: Novel microscopy technique reveals unprecedented detail inside cells. Image of a cell’s DNA taken with the new super-resolution microscopy technique developed at IMB shows the DNA in crisp detail (left). By contrast, a conventional microscopy image is blurry, making it impossible to see the striking changes in DNA discovered by the scientists at IMB (right).

Image credit: A. Szczurek & I. Kirmes

Figure 2: Dramatic effects of ischemia. The new super-resolution microscopy technique developed at IMB reveals that DNA forms highly unusual, dense clusters when cells are starved of oxygen and nutrients. The images show DNA in a cell nucleus under normal (left) and ischaemic (right) conditions.

Image credit: A. Szczurek & I. Kirmes

Ina Kirmes, a PhD student in the group of Dr George Reid at IMB, investigated what happens to the DNA in cells that are cut off from their oxygen and nutrient supply.

In a healthy cell, large parts of the DNA are open and accessible. This means that genes can be easily read and translated into proteins, so that the cell can function normally. However, the researchers showed that, in ischaemia, DNA changes dramatically: it compacts into tight clusters.

The genes in this clumped DNA cannot be read as easily anymore by the cell, their activity is substantially reduced and the cell effectively shuts down. If cells in a person’s heart stop working properly, this part of the heart stops beating, and they will have a heart attack. Similarly, when blood supply is blocked to cells in someone’s brain and their cells there are starved of oxygen and nutrients, they have a stroke.

Dr Reid is excited about the implications of this finding. "When you have a stroke, when you have a heart attack, this is likely to be what’s happening to your DNA," he explains. "Now we know that this is what’s going on, we can start to look at ways of preventing this compaction of DNA."

The key to this discovery was a close collaboration with Aleksander Szczurek, joint first author on this publication, who is part of the group of Prof. Christoph Cremer at IMB. They developed a new method that made it possible to see DNA inside the cell at a level of detail never achieved before.

Their technique is a further development of “super-resolution light microscopy”, which uses blinking dyes that bind to DNA to enable the researchers to define the location of individual molecules in cells. This novel technology has been described in a separate paper, published in Experimental Cell Research in September.

Original references:
Kirmes I, Szczurek A, Prakash K, Charapitsa I, Heiser C, Musheev M, Schock F, Fornalczyk K, Ma D, Birk U, Christoph Cremer C, Reid G (2015). A transient ischaemic environment induces reversible compaction of chromatin. Genome Biology, 16, 246

Żurek-Biesiada D, Szczurek AT, Prakash K, Mohana GK, Lee HK, Roignant JY, Birk U, Dobrucki JW and Cremer C (2015). Localization microscopy of DNA in situ using Vybrant® DyeCycle™ Violet fluorescent probe: A new approach to study nuclear nanostructure at single molecule resolution. Experimental Cell Research, doi: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2015.08.020

Further information
about Dr George Reid’s research can be found at
about Prof. Christoph Cremer’s research can be found at

About the Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH
The Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB) is a centre of excellence in the life sciences that was established in 2011 on the campus of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). Research at IMB concentrates on three cutting-edge areas: epigenetics, developmental biology, and genome stability. The institute is a prime example of a successful collaboration between public authorities and a private foundation. The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation has dedicated EUR 100 million for a period of 10 years to cover the operating costs for research at IMB, while the state of Rhineland-Palatinate provided approximately EUR 50 million for the construction of a state-of-the-art building. For more information about IMB, please visit

About the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation
The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization committed to the promotion of the medical, biological, chemical and pharmaceutical sciences. It was established in 1977 by Hubertus Liebrecht (1931-1991), a member of the shareholder family of the company Boehringer Ingelheim. With the PLUS 3 Perspectives Programme and the Exploration Grants, the foundation supports independent group leaders. It also endows the internationally renowned Heinrich Wieland Prize as well as awards for up-and-coming scientists. In addition, the foundation pledged to donate 100 million euros to finance the scientific running of the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz for ten years. In 2013, the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation donated a further 50 million euros to Mainz University. For more Information about the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation, please visit

Press contact for further information
Dr Ralf Dahm, Director of Scientific Management
Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB), Ackermannweg 4, 55128 Mainz, Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 6131 39 21455, Fax: +49 (0) 6131 39 21421, Email:

Petra Giegerich | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

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

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>