Saturday, January 26, 2013

Novel technique reveals dynamics of telomere DNA structure: Chromosome-capping telomeres are a potential target for anti-cancer drugs

In continuation of my update on telomerase
"Most cancer cells use telomerase as one mechanism to maintain uncontrolled growth, so it is an important target for anti-cancer therapeutics," Stone said. "The G-quadruplex structures of telomere DNA inhibit the function of the telomerase enzyme, so we wanted to understand the mechanical stability of this structure."

Researchers used  "magnetic tweezers" system to stretch the DNA molecule, while a fluorescence microscopy technique was used to monitor small-scale structural changes in the DNA. 
"Unlike other DNA structures, the G-quadruplex structure is fairly brittle. It takes very little perturbation to make the whole thing fall apart," Stone said. "We also found that the unfolded state has a highly compacted conformation, which tells us that it still has interactions that favor the folding reaction."
These findings have implications for understanding the molecular mechanisms of telomere-associated proteins and enzymes involved in the unfolding reaction, as well as for rational design of anti-cancer drugs, Stone said. Small molecules that bind to and stabilize telomere DNA G-quadruplexes have shown promise as anti-cancer drugs.

The integration of fluorescence measurements and magnetic tweezers is a powerful method for monitoring DNA structural dynamics, and as biophysical techniques go, it is not hard to implement, Stone said. His lab worked with DNA molecules containing the G-quadruplex sequence from human telomere DNA, attaching one end of the DNA to a glass slide and the other end to a tiny magnetic bead. A magnet held above the sample pulled on the bead, exerting a stretching force on the DNA molecule that varied according to how close the magnet was to the sample.

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