DNA 'molecular scissors' discovered

July 9, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists at the University of Dundee have discovered a protein that acts as a 'molecular scissors' to repair damaged DNA in our cells, a finding which could have major implications for cancer treatments.

Dr John Rouse and colleagues in the Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit, which is based in the College of Life Sciences at Dundee, discovered a protein, known as FAN1, which is present in each cell and plays a vital role in maintaining healthy DNA and thus prevents mutations which can lead to cancers.

'The DNA in our cells is like an instruction manual for the proper working of each cell,' said Dr Rouse, a Programme Leader in the Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation Unit in the College of Life Sciences.

'A major problem is that DNA becomes damaged regularly. If is not fixed quickly then these instructions are changed and the result is mutations - undesirable changes in DNA - that can cause the cell to become abnormal. This is essentially what causes cancer.

'However, cells are very good at recognising when DNA has become damaged and they are good at finding DNA damage and repairing it. For example, cells can quickly detect breakages in DNA and quickly fix these breaks. Many different factors help this process but we still haven't identified all of them or exactly how this process works.

'With our findings we have unlocked a major part of the puzzle. We discovered a new protein, FAN1, which is essential for the repair of DNA breaks and other types of DNA damage.

'During repair of DNA damage, DNA 'flaps' are produced that must be trimmed for repair to be completed. These leftover pieces of DNA get in the way during DNA repair and that is why they have to be removed. FAN1 carries out this task, and in this sense it acts like a 'molecular scissors'.

'Our study shows that superfluous pieces of DNA are cut by FAN1. Cells that do not have FAN1 are unable to repair DNA breaks and their DNA becomes irreversibly damaged and die. This underlines the fundamental importance of FAN1.

'Now that we have identified FAN1 and the role it plays in repairing DNA we can start to develop drugs that inhibit it. This may have a significant effect in cancer, primarily in helping to greatly enhance the efficacy of drugs used in chemotherapy treatments.

'It is pure coincidence that last year we discovered a separate group of proteins called the SLX4 complex that acts as a 'molecular toolkit' for DNA repair and that are also required for trimming DNA during ! The SLX4 complex is another promising drug target.

Most of the work on FAN1 was done by Craig MacKay, a PhD student in Dr Rouse’s team, with help from Anne-Cécile Déclais in the laboratory of Professor David Lilley, also based in the College of Life Sciences at Dundee.

Professor Lilley is a world-renowned expert on proteins that can cut DNA.

The research is published in the latest edition of the journal Cell.

Explore further: New discovery linked to DNA repair and cancer

Related Stories

Researchers uncover process involved in DNA repair

June 29, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Every day people are exposed to chemical and physical agents that damage DNA. If it isn't repaired properly, this damage can lead to mutations that in some circumstances can lead to the development of cancer ...

Real-time observation of the DNA-repair mechanism

May 22, 2008

For the first time, researchers at Delft University of Technology have witnessed the spontaneous repair of damage to DNA molecules in real time. They observed this at the level of a single DNA molecule. Insight into this ...

DNA damage to stem cells is central to ageing

June 8, 2007

DNA damage is a major mechanism behind the loss of adult stem cells over time, according to a Nature paper by Oxford University researchers and international colleagues.

Research Highlights Protein's Role in Cell Health

June 9, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Simple, but necessary human actions like breathing oxygen can damage our cells' DNA. If left unrepaired, this damage can cause multiple mutations and the type of unregulated cell division common in cancerous ...

Recommended for you

How fear alone can cause animal extinction

July 24, 2017

Researchers have discovered that the fear of predators causes flies to spend less time eating, more time being vigilant, have less sex, and produce fewer offspring. 

Algae cultivation technique could advance biofuels

July 24, 2017

Washington State University researchers have developed a way to grow algae more efficiently—in days instead of weeks—and make the algae more viable for several industries, including biofuels.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jul 09, 2010
Why would inhibition of the FAN1 protein be a desirable effect? Seems backwards, someone explain please?

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.