A new study published online on May 4, 2017 in Science from Karolinska Institutet and collaborating institutions maps out how different DNA-binding proteins in human cells react to certain biochemical modifications of the DNA molecule. The article is titled “'Impact of Cytosine Methylation on DNA Binding Specificities of Human Transcription Factors.” The scientists report that some “master”' regulatory proteins can activate regions of the genome that are normally inactive due to epigenetic changes. Their findings contribute to a better understanding of gene regulation, embryonic development, and the processes leading to diseases such as cancer. The DNA molecule carries information in the form of a sequence of four nucleotide bases, adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T), which can be thought of as the letters of the genomic language. Short sequences of the letters form “DNA words” that determine when and where proteins are made in the body. Almost all of the cells in the human body contain the letters in precisely the same order. Different genes are however active (expressed) in different cell types, allowing the cells to function in their specialized roles, for example as a brain cell or a muscle cell. The key to this gene regulation lies in specialized DNA-binding proteins -- transcription factors -- that bind to the sequences and activate or repress gene activity.
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