Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Isolation of a new gene family essential for early development

Isolation of a new gene family essential for early development Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Researchers at the newly established Centre for Epigenetics at Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC), University of Copenhagen, have identified a new gene family (UTX/JMJD3) essential for embryonic development. The family controls the expression of genes crucial for stem cell maintenance and differentiation, and the results may contribute significantly to the understanding of the development of cancer.

How embryonic stem cells work All organisms consist of a number of different cell types each producing different proteins. The nerve cells produce proteins necessary for the nerve cell function; the muscle cells proteins necessary for the muscle function and so on. All these specialised cells originate from the same cell type – the embryonic stem cells. In a highly controlled process called differentiation, the stem cells are induced to become specialised cells.

Gene family helps regulate stem cell differentiation The BRIC researchers have now identified a new gene family, which by modifying gene expression is essential for the regulation of the differentiation process. The UTX and JMJD3 proteins demethylate tri-methylated Lys-27 on histone H3. These results have been obtained by using both human and mouse stem cells, as well as by studying the development of the round worm, C. elegans. Taken together, the results suggest that histone H3 demethylation as regulated by UTX/JMJD3 proteins is essential for proper development.

Perspectives The new findings are in line with a number of recent publications that support the idea that differentiation may not entirely be a “one-way process”, and may have impact on the therapeutic use of stem cells for the treatment of various genetic diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Epigenetics Epigenetics is a relatively new field of research but nonetheless “hot” within biotechnological and biomedical research now. With the opening of Centre for Epigenetics University of Copenhagen joins the re-search front internationally, e.g. the EU has initiated a research net work for epigenetics – see

Reference: UTX and JMJD3 are histone H3K27 demethylases involved in HOX gene regulation and development Nature advance online publication 22 August 2007 doi:10.1038/nature06145 .........


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