In the April issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers reported for the first time that the protein, MBD2, mediates silencing of the fetal gamma-globin gene through DNA methylation, a process that chemically modifies DNA. Researchers used a transgenic mouse model containing the human hemoglobin gene locus to show that MBD2 interprets the DNA methylation "signal" throughout the genome, which determined how the pattern of methylation effected the expression of specific genes.
"Understanding how these epigenetic switches turn specific genes on and off, and identifying the important proteins involved, could lead to more targeted ways to reactivate genes and determine if there is a therapeutic benefit for particular diseases," said Gordon D. Ginder, M.D., director of the VCU Massey Cancer Center and lead author of the study.
Epigenetics refers to the study of the modifications of DNA and the surrounding proteins found in chromosomes that turn genes on and off and that can be passed on after cell division in an individual. Traditionally, researchers have focused their attention on changes to the DNA base code as being responsible for altered gene expression in disease.
Previous clinical studies have shown that increased gamma-globin gene expression has a positive effect in those with sickle-cell anemia or beta-thalassemia. "The gamma-globin genes normally become silent in adult hemoglobin expressing red blood cells. If we can find a specific and safe mechanism to reactivate the gamma-globin gene, we may be able to overcome the underlying molecular defect in sickle-cell anemia and beta-thalassemia," Ginder
Contact: Sathya Achia-Abraham
Virginia Commonwealth University