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Gene finding may aid kids' leukemia fight

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- HOX genes, which guide an organism's master development plan, may be turned on and off in the embryo by a special type of RNA, say U.S. researchers.

If the team is right, the discovery could lead to new ways of understanding and treating a variety of diseases, including a type of childhood leukemia clinicians think begins with gene rearrangements in the womb.

A third of the genome's RNA conveys the orders of DNA in the cell nucleus to the cell cytoplasm where the orders are carried out.

Now researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, led by Alexander Mazo and Svetlana Petruk, have discovered that non-coding RNA (ncRNA), which comprises two-thirds of the available RNA in the genome, may control how the HOX gene functions in embryos.

The team discovered that HOX gene activity in fruit flies was regulated by the Trithorax region of their genome, and that ncRNA in that region regulated HOX expression by blocking the activity of gene coding elements, a process called transcription interference.

Transcription interference is common in bacteria and yeast, but this is the first time it has been found in a higher organism.

Since the area of the human genome that regulates the gene responsible for acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) corresponds to the Trithorax area in the fruit fly genome, the researchers think similar ncRNA activity may guide the gene rearrangements responsible for the disease.

The findings appear in the most recent issue of the journal Cell.


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more information on Dr. Mazo's project ...