Scientists identify genes linked to DNA damage and human disease

February 16, 2024

The genome contains all the genes and genetic material within an organism's cells. When the genome is stable, cells can accurately replicate and divide, passing on correct genetic information to the next generation of cells. Despite its significance, little is understood about the genetic factors governing genome stability, protection, repair, and the prevention of DNA damage. The findings help shed light on genetic factors influencing the health of human genomes over a lifespan and disease development. Nature; 14 Feb 2024; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-07009-0Adapted from a press release from the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

The work, published in Nature, provides insights into cancer progression and neurodegenerative diseases as well as a potential therapeutic avenue in the form of a protein inhibitor.

The genome contains all the genes and genetic material within an organism's cells. When the genome is stable, cells can accurately replicate and divide, passing on correct genetic information to the next generation of cells. Despite its significance, little is understood about the genetic factors governing genome stability, protection, repair, and the prevention of DNA damage.

In this new study, researchers from the UK Dementia Research Institute, at the University of Cambridge, and the Wellcome Sanger Institute set out to better understand the biology of cellular health and identify genes key to maintaining genome stability.

Using a set of genetically modified mouse lines, the team identified 145 genes that play key roles in either increasing or decreasing the formation of abnormal micronuclei structures. These structures indicate genomic instability and DNA damage, and are common hallmarks of ageing and diseases.

The most dramatic increases in genomic instability were seen when the researchers knocked out the gene DSCC1, increasing abnormal micronuclei formation five-fold. Mice lacking this gene mirrored characteristics akin to human patients with a number of rare genetic disorders, further emphasising the relevance of this research to human health.

Using CRISPR screening, researchers showed this effect triggered by DSCC1 loss could be partially reversed through inhibiting protein SIRT1. This offers a highly promising avenue for the development of new therapies.

The findings help shed light on genetic factors influencing the health of human genomes over a lifespan and disease development.

Professor Gabriel Balmus, senior author of the study at the UK Dementia Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, formerly at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “Continued exploration on genomic instability is vital to develop tailored treatments that tackle the root genetic causes, with the goal of improving outcomes and the overall quality of life for individuals across various conditions.”

Dr David Adams, first author of the study at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “Genomic stability is central to the health of cells, influencing a spectrum of diseases from cancer to neurodegeneration, yet this has been a relatively underexplored area of research. This work, of 15 years in the making, exemplifies what can be learned from large-scale, unbiased genetic screening. The 145 identified genes, especially those tied to human disease, offer promising targets for developing new therapies for genome instability-driven diseases like cancer and neurodevelopmental disorders.”

This research was supported by Wellcome and the UK Dementia Research Institute.

Reference
Adams, DJ et al. Genetic determinants of micronucleus formation in vivo. Nature; 14 Feb 2024; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-07009-0

Adapted from a press release from the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

The source of this news is from University of Cambridge

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