Biologists find mechanisms that control where transcription factors bind
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A team of biologists has determined how transcription factors (TFs), which guide gene regulation, function differently in embryonic development. The results help illuminate how cells acquire distinct functions as the embryo matures.

“The basic principles learned from these findings are important in understanding how the activities of transcription factors control development of higher organisms, including mice and humans,” observes Stephen Small, a professor in New York University’s Department of Biology and one of the researchers. “More specifically, the results offer a potential pathway to better grasp how mutated genes that interfere with transcription factors can cause profound disruptions in embryonic development and result in a range of diseases, including cancer.”

The study, which is reported in the journal Genes & Development, also included scientists from Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins University.

Biologists have historically had difficulty precisely understanding how transcription factors control embryo development. This is because they number in the hundreds and different combinations are expressed in individual cell types as development proceeds.

Moreover, studies have produced conflicting results. For example, in previous biochemical experiments, researchers have shown that individual TFs within a family bind to the same DNA sequence; but, genetic experiments have revealed that they

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