Can Gene Inactivation Prevent Aging and Cancer?

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A new study published in the journal Nature concluded that every body cell contains the complete DNA library and the so called methyl groups regulate the DNA library in tissues so that only the genetic information needed in that tissue is expressed. Now for the first time, researchers verified that a lack of methyl groups in the gene body leads to an incorrect gene activation and, subsequently may lead to the emergence of cancer.

Each body cell contains the entire building plan of the whole organism written in the DNA and comprises single genes that determine the specific attributes of the individual.  Gene expression builds tissue cells with tissue-specific attributes. Thus, genes information is activated that forms cells identified as intestinal cells or lung cells etc. In this regulated process methyl groups play an important role. If they are enzymatically bound to a gene’s starting point, known as the promoter, the respective gene is inactivated and the DNA is methylated. As we age and develop age-related diseases such as cancer the activation of genetic information is increasingly defective. However, until now, the detailed processes of these errors and the role of  DNA methylation  in these processes has been poorly understood.

Researchers have known for some time that DNA methylation at the promoter of a gene functions as an on/off switch. However, it was unknown in epigenetics why DNA within the gene body housing the important genetic information is methylated also which was answered in this research. This research showed that genes also aberrant activated if–beyond promoters–DNA methylation is missing within the gene body. Subsequently aberrant proteins are produced that impinge on the cell structure that result in massive disruption of the function and identity of a cell and cell degradation occurs and cancer may emerge.  Researchers concluded “this new knowledge that a lack of DNA methylation at the gene body  may lead to the production of aberrant proteins, might offer a target for cancer therapy. If we succeed to find a way to traffic methyl groups to non-methylated DNA sequences of cancer cells, we could possibly stop proliferation of these cells.”

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