Medical Research Council - Clinical Services Centre

Hampering Histones
20 May 2012

Hampering Histones

The language of life is spoken through DNA. As with words, however, their meaning is open to interpretation. Genetic ‘words’ are formed through an interplay between environmental factors and DNA by means of epigenetics – an extra layer of chromosome coding. Chromosomes are formed from proteins (inside dark blue line; CGI upper panels) called histones around which DNA is ‘spooled’. Histones are tagged by special protein catalysts (enzymes) like SUV39h. This enzyme helps generate an‘epigenetic code’ by tagging histones. Without it (right-hand images) an abnormality arises that adversely affects the cell’s ability to make protein. These kinds of abnormality are common in diseases such as cancer. Understanding epigenetic processes has important implications for human health and the development of new treatments for a wide variety of diseases.

Written by Jan Piotrowski

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