A team of researchers at the IRCM led by François Robert, PhD, uncovered a critical role for two proteins in chromatin structure. Their breakthrough, recently published in the scientific journal Molecular Cell, helps explain how DNA is organized in our cells. This discovery could lead to a better understanding of what causes certain types of cancer, such as lymphoma.
“This extreme compaction is made possible by proteins called histones, which condense the DNA much like thread is wound around a spool,” explains Dr. Robert, Director of the Chromatin and Genomic Expression research unit at the IRCM. “Maintaining an appropriate chromatin structure is essential for normal development and, not surprisingly, defects in chromatin components can lead to several diseases.” Chromatin is carefully organized in such a way that genes remain “accessible” to the various proteins required for gene expression, or the interpretation of the genic information stored in DNA. Chromatin therefore provides the organism with another layer of information, referred to as epigenetic information, which is made available, in part, through specialized histones called histone variants.