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A team led by Prof. Stein Aerts (VIB-KU Leuven) has reported how access to relevant DNA regions is orchestrated in epithelial cells. These findings shed new light on the biological mechanisms of gene regulation and open up potential new avenues for cellular reprogramming.
At any given time, the majority of DNA in the cell nucleus is wrapped around histone proteins and stacked into chromatin. This conserves space, but also allows for the dynamic regulation of gene expression. So-called pioneer factors can directly bind condensed chromatin, making specific regions of the DNA accessible and enabling the regulation of nearby genes.
Stein - Aerts - Professor - VIB-KU - Leuven
Stein Aerts, professor at VIB-KU Leuven, is interested in understanding the fine-tuned processes that govern this regulation. "Over the last decade, we have seen a shift from studying genes to studying gene regulation. Now that we can systematically profile genomes, epigenomes and transcriptomes, the challenge is to discover the rules that link DNA sequence with chromatin state and gene expression. In other words, we try to disentangle the regulatory code of our genome."
Aerts and his team set out to study how DNA sequence information, chromatin accessibility and gene expression are linked in epithelial cells. These cells line the outer surfaces of organs and form the outer layer of the skin.
Jelle - Jacobs - Student - Aerts - Lab
Jelle Jacobs, doctoral student in the Aerts lab, explains: "Using a combination of computational biology and in vivo experiments, we found that access to the DNA regions that are relevant for epithelial cells is governed by a protein called grainyhead. Grainyhead is necessary to 'unlock' these specific DNA regions, which in turn allows other players to move...
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