Scientists test commonly used antibodies

December 6, 2010

If a strand of your DNA was stretched out completely, it would be more than six feet long. It's hard to imagine that it can fit inside the nucleus of one of your cells, but that's exactly how it works.

For much of the last century, scientists have been busy figuring out how is packaged in , and have found strong indications that the packaging is integral to how DNA works. The packaging – comprised mostly of an amino acid molecule called a histone – influences the on and off switches of different genes that regulate cellular function and play a role in human diseases ranging from cancer to genetic disorders. Scientists study histones by using to specific "flavors" of histones that are only very slightly different from one another. The antibodies help to pinpoint what DNA is being packaged by a certain kind of "flavor" of histone, and how that affects gene regulation. Different flavors affect genes differently.

"And this is where it gets complicated," says Jason Lieb, PhD, who led the project. "Many companies make these antibodies that we scientists use in our labs – but there are so many different kinds of histones and types of tests we do that it's just not feasible for the companies to anticipate every single way that a given antibody can be used."

This is a problem, explains Lieb, who is a professor of biology at UNC-Chapel Hill and member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, since scientists can't be absolutely certain that the antibody is recognizing a specific "flavor" of histone, or one that is very closely related.

"Histones are essentially the key to the DNA library. They tell you which 'shelves' of that library – or areas of the genome – are open or closed to information moving in and out. But since the differences between the different 'flavors' of histones are often extremely small, and it's likely that an antibody may react with more than one histone or in different ways depending on the type of test being used in the lab. It makes scientific precision very difficult," Lieb notes.

In a paper published today in the journal , Lieb and his colleagues from across the country describe how they tested more than 200 antibodies against 57 histone modifications (or flavors) in three different organisms, using three different tests commonly used in this kind of genetic analysis. They found that about 25 percent of antibodies currently sold have a problem with specificity – targeting the anticipated histone – in a given test. They believe that this proportion is likely to remain steady over time.

"So we thought, ok, we need to help ourselves as scientists. We set up a web-based searchable database at Our results are there and other scientists can also post their results so that we have a self-sustaining, up-to-date source of information that is really important to scientists working to understand a broad range of genetic phenomena," he said.

Explore further: Roles of DNA packaging protein revealed

More information:

Related Stories

Roles of DNA packaging protein revealed

February 12, 2009

Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have found that a class of chromatin proteins is crucial for maintaining the structure and function of chromosomes and the normal development of eukaryotic ...

Messenger RNA with FLASH

October 22, 2009

A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has identified a key player in a molecular process essential for DNA replication within cells.

Histone modifications control accessibility of DNA

July 14, 2010

( -- n an advanced online publication in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology scientist from Dirk Schübeler's group from the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research provide a genome-wide view of ...

On the trail of the epigenetic code

October 11, 2010

The genetic inherited material DNA was long viewed as the sole bearer of hereditary information. The function of its packaging proteins, the histones, was believed to be exclusively structural. Additional genetic information ...

Recommended for you

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...

How cells 'climb' to build fruit fly tracheas

November 25, 2015

Fruit fly windpipes are much more like human blood vessels than the entryway to human lungs. To create that intricate network, fly embryonic cells must sprout "fingers" and crawl into place. Now researchers at The Johns Hopkins ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.