Penn researchers protein's link to leukemia

Penn researchers answer 'one small question,' and advance the quest to cure a deadly form of cancer

Scientists unlock a mystery related to acute undifferentiated leukemia

Scientists studying gene regulation by a common protein compound have uncovered its link to a fatal form of leukemia, in a breakthrough that opens new lines of inquiry for researchers devoted to finding a cure for the disease.

"This is how science works at its best. You begin with an interest in how cells work, and it leads to an understanding of the relationship of basic cellular proteins to a disease," said Debabrata Chakravarti, PhD., Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and leader of the research team that made the discovery.

The findings are published today in the journal Cell.

Chakravarti's research, which began with his interest in a specific aspect of cell transcription the change in a cell brought about by the action of DNA and protein -- has uncovered what he describes as "a plausible mechanism" for the function of a cancer-causing gene found in aberrant bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow contains pluripotent stem cells, which can give rise to lymphocytes and myeloid cells. Myeloid cells contribute to the work of the body's immune system -- but when they fail to differentiate, and therefore cannot perform their natural function, they trigger acute undifferentiated leukemia.

At the time of Chakravati's discovery, he and his group were working to identify the function of a group of cellular proteins, known collectively as INHAT, that regulates gene activity. The protein complex functions by modifying DNA through histones the chain of proteins that coil around DNA.

As they moved forward in defining the aspects of INHAT that have to do with cell transcription, Penn's researchers discovered the identity of one of the proteins in the INHAT sequence is SET -- a putatiove oncogene

Contact: Ellen O'Brien
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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