The cells in our bodies can divide as often as once every 24 hours, creating a new, identical copy. DNA binding proteins called transcription factors are required for maintaining cell identity. They ensure that daughter cells have the same function as their mother cell, so that for example muscle cells can contract or pancreatic cells can produce insulin. However, each time a cell divides the specific binding pattern of the transcription factors is erased and has to be restored in both mother and daughter cells. Previously it was unknown how this process works, but now scientists at Karolinska Institutet have discovered the importance of particular protein rings encircling the DNA and how these function as the cell’s memory.
The DNA in human cells is translated into a multitude of proteins required for a cell to function. When, where and how proteins are expressed is determined by regulatory DNA sequences and a group of proteins, known as transcription factors, that bind to these DNA sequences. Each cell type can be distinguished based on its transcription factors, and a cell can in certain cases be directly converted from one type to another, simply by changing the expression of one or more transcription factors. It is critical that the pattern of transcription factor binding in the genome be maintained. During each cell division, the transcription factors are removed from DNA and must find their way back to the right spot after the cell has divided. Despite many years of intense research, no general mechanism has been discovered which would explain how this is achieved.
“The problem is that there is so much DNA in a cell that it would be impossible for the transcription factors to find their way back within a reasonable time frame. But now we have found a possible mechanism for how this cellular memory works, and how it helps the cell remember the order that existed before the cell divided, helping the transcription factors find their correct places”, explains Jussi Taipale, professor at Karolinska Institutet and the University of Helsinki, and head of the research team behind the discovery.
Read more at: Phys.org