New findings published in eLife draw connections between some of these pieces, revealing an extensive web of molecular interactions that may ultimately inform the development of new epigenetic drugs for cancer and other diseases. Specifically, the study reveals a mechanism that helps explain how dividing cells pass patterns of epigenetic information called methyl tags to their daughter cells, a crucial part of regulating gene expression across cell generations.
Epigenetic tags help tell genes — stretches of DNA that act as biological instruction manuals — when to switch “on” and “off,” ultimately determining cell type and function. DNA methylation, or the addition of methyl tags to DNA, is one of the most well-studied epigenetic signals; errors in this process are commonly found in cancer.
“Many of the key players orchestrating DNA methylation had previously been characterized, but what we didn’t fully realize before this study is that they all work together in an elegant way,” said Scott Rothbart, Ph.D., assistant professor at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) and the study’s senior author. “These new insights into the complexities of epigenetic regulation are contributing to our basic understanding of this process in human health and disease and gives us new vision for how to go about targeting errors in DNA methylation with innovative drug therapies.” More. Paper. (public access) – Joseph S Harrison, Evan M Cornett, Dennis Goldfarb, Paul A DaRosa, Zimeng M Li, Feng Yan, Bradley M Dickson, Angela H Guo, Daniel V Cantu, Lilia Kaustov, Peter J Brown, Cheryl H Arrowsmith, Dorothy A Erie, Michael B Major, Rachel E Klevit, Krzysztof Krajewski, Brian Kuhlman, Brian D Strahl, Scott B Rothbart. Hemi-methylated DNA regulates DNA methylation inheritance through allosteric activation of H3 ubiquitylation by UHRF1. eLife, 2016; 5 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.17101
See also: Epigenetics: Altered gene expression in kids born to overweight women Researcher: “Your risk of chronic diseases isn’t set in stone at birth; there are many different periods in which your lifelong disease risk can be modulated.”
Epigenetic change: Lamarck, wake up, you’re wanted in the conference room!