Hormones serve as one of the body's express messenger services; they are frequently used as a signal that tells cells to change their functions or patterns of growth. Estrogen is a small molecule that passes directly into cells; once inside, it latches onto proteins called estrogen receptors that dock onto DNA. As a result, genes are activated and new proteins are produced, changing the cell's behavior.
The body reacts to both increases and decreases in amounts of estrogen; switching a gene off can be just as important as activating one. Recent experiments have given George Reid, Michael Hbner and Raphal Mtivier in Frank Gannon's laboratory a new view of how genes can respond to changes in either direction.
Gannon's team has focused on estrogen receptors since they are the main intermediaries between the estrogen hormone and genes. Their latest work reveals that receptors don't stay docked onto DNA very long; they regularly get stripped off again and dismantled. New receptors arrive to take their place. This cycle is essential to the way estrogen functions.
"It takes a two-step process for estrogen to switch on a gene," Reid says. "The hormone binds to the receptor and activates it. This complex then docks onto DNA and turns on the gene. If there is no estrogen around, 'unloaded' receptors still attach themse
Contact: Russ Hodge
European Molecular Biology Laboratory