A novel technique that enables scientists to measure and document tumor-inducing changes in DNA is providing new insight into the earliest events involved in the formation of leukemias, lymphomas and sarcomas, and could potentially lead to the discovery of ways to stop those events.
Developed by a team of researchers at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), both parts of the National Institutes of Health, and The Rockefeller University, the technology focuses on chromosomal rearrangements known as translocations. Translocations occur when a broken strand of DNA from one chromosome is erroneously joined with that of another chromosome. Sometimes these irregularities can be beneficial in that they enable the immune system to respond to a vast number of microorganisms and viruses. However, translocations can also result in tumors.
The findings are reported in the Sept. 30 issue of the journal Cell.
Translocations can take place during the course of normal cell division, when each chromosome — a single strand of DNA containing many genes — is copied verbatim to provide genetic information for the daughter cells. Sometimes, during this process, byproducts of normal metabolism or other factors can cause breaks in the DNA.
"The cell expresses specific enzymes whose primary purpose is to repair such lesions effectively, but when the enzymes mistakenly join pieces of two different chromosomes, the cell's genetic information is changed," said Rafael C. Casellas, Ph.D., senior investigator in the Genomics and Immunity Section at the NIAMS, who led the research team along with Michel C. Nussenzweig, M.D., Ph.D., from Rockefeller.
Casellas likens the phenomenon to breaking two sentences and then rejoining them incorrectly. For example, "The boy completed his homework." and "The dog went to the vet." might become "The dog completed his homework." or "The boy went to the vet." When a cell gets nonsensical information such as this, it can become deregulated and even malignant.
Scientists have known since the 1960s that recurrent translocations play a critical role in cancer. What was unclear was how these genetic abnormalities are created, since very few of them were studied, and only within the context of tumors, said Casellas. To better understand the nature of these tumor-inducing rearrangements, the authors had to create a system to visualize their appearance in normal, non-transformed cells.
The system the teams created involved introducing enzymes that recognize and cause damage at a particular sequence in the DNA into cells from mice, thereby constructing a genome where a unique site is broken continuously. The group then used a technique called polymerase chain reaction — which allows scientists to quickly amplify short sequences of DNA — to check all the sites in the genome that would get translocated to this particular break. Using this technique, they were able to examine more than 180,000 chromosomal rearrangements from 400 million white blood cells, called B cells.
Based on this large data set, the scientists were able to make several important observations about the translocation process. They learned that most of the translocations involve gene domains, rather than the space on the DNA between the genes. They also found that most translocations target active genes, with a clear bias for the beginning of the gene, as opposed to its middle or end. The team also showed that a particular enzyme that normally creates DNA breaks in B cells dramatically increases the incidence of translocations during the immune response. This feature explains the long-standing observation that more than 95 percent of human lymphomas and leukemias are of B cell origin.
"This knowledge is allowing us to understand how tumors are initiated," said Casellas. "It is the kind of information that in the near future, might help us prevent the development of cancer."
Additional support for this work was provided by Andre Nussenzweig, Ph.D., who heads the Laboratory of Genome Integrity of NCI.
The mission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health (NIH), is to support research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases; the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research; and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For more information about the NIAMS, call the information clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (free call) or visit the NIAMS website at http://www.niams.nih.gov.
NCI leads the National Cancer Program and the NIH effort to dramatically reduce the burden of cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families, through research into prevention and cancer biology, the development of new interventions, and the training and mentoring of new researchers. For more information about cancer, please visit the NCI website at www.cancer.gov or call NCI's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
Trish Reynolds | EurekAlert!
Study suggests possible new target for treating and preventing Alzheimer's
02.12.2016 | Oregon Health & Science University
The first analysis of Ewing's sarcoma methyloma opens doors to new treatments
01.12.2016 | IDIBELL-Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute
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...
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...
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...
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,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering