Scientists find missing factor in gene activation
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IMAGE: Nucleosome destabilizing factor, or NDF, activates genes by destabilizing nucleosomes, clearing the way for genes to activate. view more 

Credit: Kadonaga Lab, UC San Diego

Until human genes are activated, they are blocked by structures known as nucleosomes, components that serve to package DNA inside cells.

For the past several decades, scientists have been trying to determine how these nucleosome roadblocks clear out to allow genes to be turned on. Now, a team of scientists led by postdoctoral researcher Jia Fei in James Kadonaga’s lab at the University of California San Diego has identified a key factor that partially unravels nucleosomes and clears the way for genes to activate.

The identification of “NDF,” or nucleosome destabilizing factor, is described May 14 in the journal Genes & Development. The researchers say the finding provides a new perspective on how genes are turned on and off–knowledge useful in the study of human diseases such as cancer, which can be caused by improper gene activity.

“It’s a special privilege to discover a new activity in the regulation of our genes,” said Kadonaga, adding that the breakthrough came as a result of Fei’s interest in factors that might disassemble or destabilize nucleosomes.

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