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Epigenetics enigma resolved

Scientists have obtained the first detailed molecular structure of a member of the Tet family of enzymes.

The finding is important for the field of epigenetics because Tet enzymes chemically modify DNA, changing signposts that tell the cell’s machinery “this gene is shut off” into other signs that say “ready for a change.”

Tet enzymes’ roles have come to light only in the last five years; they are needed for stem cells to maintain their multipotent state, and are involved in early embryonic and brain development and in cancer.

The results, which could help scientists understand how Tet enzymes are regulated and look for drugs that manipulate them, are scheduled for publication in Nature.

Researchers led by Xiaodong Cheng, PhD, determined the structure of a Tet family member from Naegleria gruberi by X-ray crystallography. The structure shows how the enzyme interacts with its target DNA, bending the double helix and flipping out the base that is to be modified.

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