'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: The impact of bacteria in our guts

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists fold RNA origami from a single strand

Aug 14, 2014

RNA origami is a new method for organizing molecules on the nanoscale. Using just a single strand of RNA, many complicated shapes can be fabricated by this technique. Unlike existing methods for folding DNA ...

Genetics reveal effects of deadly frog fungus

Aug 07, 2014

(Phys.org) —A deadly fungus has decimated certain populations of amphibians globally for the past few decades, but scientists remain unclear about the exact mechanisms that lead to its disease.

The 'memory' of starvation is in your genes

Jul 31, 2014

During the winter of 1944, the Nazis blocked food supplies to the western Netherlands, creating a period of widespread famine and devastation. The impact of starvation on expectant mothers produced one of the first known ...

Recommended for you

The impact of bacteria in our guts

Aug 22, 2014

The word metabolism gets tossed around a lot, but it means much more than whether you can go back to the buffet for seconds without worrying about your waistline. In fact, metabolism is the set of biochemical ...

Stem cell therapies hold promise, but obstacles remain

Aug 22, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—In an article appearing online today in the journal Science, a group of researchers, including University of Rochester neurologist Steve Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., review the potential and ch ...

New hope in fight against muscular dystrophy

Aug 22, 2014

Research at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology offers hope to those who suffer from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, an incurable, debilitating disease that cuts young lives short.

Biologists reprogram skin cells to mimic rare disease

Aug 21, 2014

Johns Hopkins stem cell biologists have found a way to reprogram a patient's skin cells into cells that mimic and display many biological features of a rare genetic disorder called familial dysautonomia. ...

User comments : 0