Genetic regulators in blood cells located

In order to provide scientists a tool to determine how a healthy blood cell can turn cancerous, researchers have located the regions which determine if a particular gene would be active or silent in a blood cell.

These regions in the blood cells are known as enhancers and promoters.

“Until this point researchers could only recognise the unique signatures of enhancers and promoters, however, their exact location, as well as the association of specific enhancers to specific blood cells, remained unclear,” said Alistair Forrest of the RIKEN Centre for Life Science Technology in Yokohama, Japan.

The investigators analysed more than 30 different specialised subtypes of white blood cells (including mast cells, T cells, monocytes, granulocytes and B cells) and pinpointed the locations of enhancers.

By identifying and mapping the locations of these regulators, investigators were able to correlate them with activity in specific genes.

Blood comprises three main types of cells, erythrocytes (red blood cells), leukocytes (white blood cells), and thrombocytes (platelets), all of which arise from blood stem cells.

While the origin of these cells is known, the gene expression changes that take place in the stem cell to dictate whether it becomes red cell, white cell, or platelet – or even develops a genetic mutation – are not yet fully understood.

According to Forrest, the findings would allow the researchers to trace the development of these cells and determine what might have occurred along the way to lead them to their final state.

“Now that we have these incredibly detailed pictures of each of these cell types, we can now work backwards to compare cancer cells to the cells they came from originally to better understand what may have triggered the cells to malfunction,” said Forrest.

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The study appeared in the journal Blood.

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