'Quiet revolution' may herald new RNA therapeutics

Jan 21, 2007

Scientists at the University of Oxford have identified a surprising way of switching off a gene involved in cell division. The mechanism involves a form of RNA, a chemical found in cell nuclei, whose role was previously unknown, and could have implications for preventing the growth of tumour cells.

RNA plays an important and direct role in the synthesis of proteins, the building blocks of our bodies. However, scientists have known for some time that not all types of RNA are directly involved in protein synthesis. Now, in research funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, a team of scientists has shown that one particular type of RNA plays a key role in regulating the gene implicated in control of tumour growth. The research is published online today in Nature.

The Human Genome Project identified about 34,000 genes responsible for producing proteins. The remaining part – in fact, most of the genome – constituted what was considered to be "junk" DNA with no function. However, latest estimates show that this "junk" DNA produces around half a million varieties of RNA of unknown functions.

"There's been a quiet revolution taking place in biology during the past few years over the role of RNA," says Dr Alexandre Akoulitchev, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. "Scientists have begun to see 'junk' DNA as having a very important function. The variety of RNA types produced from this "junk" is staggering and the functional implications are huge."

The particular form of RNA that has been of interest to Dr Akoulitchev's team is involved in regulation of the dihydrofolate reductase gene (DHFR), determining whether the gene is "on" or "off". The DHFR gene produces an enzyme that controls thymine production, necessary in rapidly dividing cells.

"Inhibiting the DHFR gene could help prevent the growth of neoplastic cancerous cells, ordinary cells which develop into tumour cells, such as in prostate cancer cells," explains Dr Akoulitchev. "In fact, the first anti-cancer drug, Methotrexate, acts by binding and inhibiting the enzyme produced by this gene."

Dr Akoulitchev believes that understanding how we can use the RNA to switch off or inhibit DHFR and other genes may have important therapeutic implications for developing new anti-cancer treatments.

Source: Wellcome Trust

Explore further: Ultrasound enhancement provides clarity to damaged tendons, ligaments

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cells put off protein production during times of stress

Sep 11, 2014

Living cells are like miniature factories, responsible for the production of more than 25,000 different proteins with very specific 3-D shapes. And just as an overwhelmed assembly line can begin making mistakes, ...

New defense mechanism against viruses discovered

Sep 11, 2014

Researchers have discovered that a known quality control mechanism in human, animal and plant cells is active against viruses. They think it might represent one of the oldest defense mechanisms against viruses ...

New mechanism in gene regulation revealed

Sep 08, 2014

The information encoded in our genes is translated into proteins, which ultimately mediate biological functions in an organism. Messenger RNA (mRNA) plays an important role, as it is the molecular template used for translation. ...

Recommended for you

A better way to track emerging cell therapies using MRIs

17 hours ago

Cellular therapeutics – using intact cells to treat and cure disease – is a hugely promising new approach in medicine but it is hindered by the inability of doctors and scientists to effectively track the movements, destination ...

User comments : 0