French Scientists Unlock Novel Gene-Silencing Protein

26 October 2009 (Last Updated October 26th, 2009 18:30)

A team of scientists headed by France's Pasteur Institute has announced the discovery of a new gene-splicing protein, which may offer new options for the treatment of cancer and genetic disorders. Scientists from the Pasteur Institute along with colleagues from the CNRS and the French Agr

A team of scientists headed by France's Pasteur Institute has announced the discovery of a new gene-splicing protein, which may offer new options for the treatment of cancer and genetic disorders.

Scientists from the Pasteur Institute along with colleagues from the CNRS and the French Agricultural Research Institute identified the new protein, called BAHD1, which is responsible for changing DNA structure and silencing the expression of genes.

The findings are part of the Spatelis research project, a European Commission initiative under the ERA-NET PathoGenoMics genome-based research programme initiative.

ERA-NET PathoGenoMics coordinator Dr Marion Karrasch-Bott said that the discovery of the BAHD1 complex contributes to the understanding of how genes in cells of the body are regulated.

"Such knowledge could lead to new cancer therapies aimed at re-silencing inappropriately activated genes or to new prognosis markers," said Karrasch-Bott.

Each cell type activates only a small subset of genes, rendering it unique and different. Scientists believe that by regulating the structure of chromatin (fibres made of DNA and proteins that constitutes our chromosomes), they may be able to control how cells choose to switch genes on or off.

The newly identified protein behaves as a chromatin condensation machine at specific gene sites and is known to silence IGF2, a gene mainly active during embryo development.

This and other embryonic-development genes usually remain silent in healthy adults but can sometimes be inappropriately reactivated, often leading to tumour formation.