Figure 4

Monday, September 12, 2016

Researchers in the Balasubramanian Group have identified the role that a four-stranded version of DNA may play in the progression of cancer, and suggest that it may be used to develop new targeted cancer therapies.

In work funded by Cancer Research UK and EMBO, researchers found that quadruple helix structures occur in the regions of DNA that control genes, particularly cancer genes, suggesting that they may play a role in switching genes on or off. The results, reported in the journal Nature Genetics, could also have implications for cancer diagnostics and the development of new targeted treatments.

The structures, with four rather than two (double) helixes are often referred to as G-quadruplexes, as they form in regions of DNA that are rich in the amino acid guanine, usually abbreviated to ‘G’.

“We found that G-quadruplexes appear in regions of the genome where proteins such as transcription factors control cell fate and function,” said Dr Robert Hänsel-Hertsch, the paper’s lead author. “The finding that these structures may help regulate the way that information is encoded and decoded in the genome will change the way we think this process works.”

Professor Shankar Balasubramanian group leader and the paper’s senior author said: “There have been a number of different connections made between these structures and cancer, but these have been largely hypothetical. What we’ve found is that even in non-cancer cells, these structures seem to come and go in a way that’s linked to genes being switched on or off.”

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