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Masking genetic mutations

A group of scientists from the National Cancer Center Research Institute in Tokyo, Japan have identified a key regulator of the expression of genetic mutations and, in the process, have developed an intriguing therapeutic approach to combat prevalent genetic disorders.

We dont realize the full extent of our genetic mutations. Nonsense-mediated mRNA degradation (NMD), or mRNA surveillance, is one of the pathways that masks the effect of DNA mutations. Certain DNA sequence mutations cause the corresponding mRNA to contain a premature stop signal, called a PTC. When mRNAs containing a PTC are translated into proteins, the protein is truncated, or shortened. Depending upon what portion of the protein is missing, truncated proteins may be nonfunctional or potentially dangerous. NMD surveys mRNAs for PTCs.

NMD is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism to eliminate imperfect mRNAs containing PTCs. Although NMD has been heavily investigated in lower eukaryotic organisms, researchers have only a vague outline of the process in mammals. As published in the September 1 issue of Genes & Development, Dr. Shigeo Ohno and colleagues have discovered an important parallel between worm NMD and human NMD.

C. elegans regulates NMD by the addition of phosphate groups to the proteins involved in the NMD pathway. Dr. Ohno and colleagues have cloned and characterized the human homolog of the C. elegans smg-1 gene, which they termed hSMG-1. Like its worm counterpart, hSMG-1 encodes a protein kinase, which phosphorylates a member of the NMD pathway. Dr. Ohno and colleagues demonstrated that inactivation of hSMG-1 inhibited NMD and thereby allowed for the translation and subsequent accumulation of truncated proteins.

Dr. Ohno is quick to point out, though, that the accumulation of truncated proteins is not necessarily a detrimental event it may even be desirable. Dr. Ohno and colleagues are pursuing a therapeutic strategy involving the specific inactivation of
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Contact: Nora Poppito
poppito@cshl.org
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
31-Aug-2001


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