Epigenetic regulation – modifications to the structure of chromatin that influence which genes are expressed in a cell – is a key player in embryonic development and cancer formation. Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory [EMBL] in Heidelberg now gained new insight into one crucial epigenetic mechanism and reveal that it acts much faster than assumed.
In this week's issue of Nature they report that estrogen causes rapid epigenetic changes in breast cancer cells. The new findings impact upon our understanding of how cells interpret their DNA and suggest that epigenetic regulation can affect gene expression immediately and long-term.
Epigenetic changes to the structure of chromatin – tightly packaged DNA - grant or deny access to the molecular machinery that transcribes DNA and thereby regulate gene expression. One of these mechanisms is DNA methylation, where a small chemical residue called a methyl group is added to strategic bases on the DNA. The methyl group prevents the transcription machinery from docking and thereby shuts down gene expression. For a long time scientists have considered methylation a mechanism of long-term regulation of a gene's activity, because the methylation marks are stable and maintained through cellular replication.
EMBL researchers of the group of Frank Gannon, current director of the Science Foundation Ireland, now found out that methylation marks occur rapidly in breast cancer cells in response to hormones such as estrogen or drug compounds. Estrogen withdrawal or treatment with the established anticancer drug doxorubicin cause the methyl groups to be removed from regulatory regions of specific genes within tens of minutes in human breast cancer cells. The treatment sets off a whole cycle of events: initial demethylation renders silent genes active and subsequent remethylation shuts them down again. This cycle repeats itself every 1.5 hours.
"We observed that unlike assumed for a long time methylation can act on a very short timescale. The results challenge our understanding of epigenetics as a means to regulate gene expression permanently," says Sara Kangaspeska, who carried out the research together with Brenda Stride.
The new insights into the cyclical nature of methylation might shed light on the molecular bases of cancer and development, both processes involving epigenetic mechanisms.
"In particular breast cancer is affected by estrogen signalling and changes in epigenetic control," says George Reid, co-senior author of the study. "Our next step will be to find small molecules that target the cyclical methylation processes to elucidate their precise role."
Published in Nature on 6 March 2008.
Anna-Lynn Wegener | EMBL
Helping to Transport Proteins Inside the Cell
21.11.2018 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
UNH researchers create a more effective hydrogel for healing wounds
21.11.2018 | University of New Hampshire
Innsbruck quantum physicists have constructed a diode for magnetic fields and then tested it in the laboratory. The device, developed by the research groups led by the theorist Oriol Romero-Isart and the experimental physicist Gerhard Kirchmair, could open up a number of new applications.
Electric diodes are essential electronic components that conduct electricity in one direction but prevent conduction in the opposite one. They are found at the...
Max Planck researchers revel the nano-structure of molecular trains and the reason for smooth transport in cellular antennas.
Moving around, sensing the extracellular environment, and signaling to other cells are important for a cell to function properly. Responsible for those tasks...
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
19.11.2018 | Event News
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
21.11.2018 | Life Sciences
21.11.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
21.11.2018 | Life Sciences