In a new study published in the journal Science, a team of researchers has described how DNA-binding proteins (called transcription factors) react to and interpret these “epigenetic” changes. The study reveals that certain “master” regulatory proteins can activate regions of the genome that are normally inactive.
“This study identifies how the modification of the DNA structure affects the binding of transcription factors, and this increases our understanding of how genes are regulated in cells and further aids us in deciphering the grammar written into DNA,” study co-author Jussi Taipale from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden said in a statement.
The researchers found that while most transcription factors are incapable of binding to DNA sequences containing methylated cytosine, some transcription factors actually prefer the methylated version, including some factors that play a key role in embryonic development, and in the development of prostate and colorectal cancers.
“The results suggest that such ‘master’ regulatory factors could activate regions of the genome that are normally inactive, leading to the formation of organs during development, or the initiation of pathological changes in cells that lead to diseases such as cancer,” Taipale said.
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