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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Press release]NIH scientists determine how environment contributes to several human diseases

NIH scientists determine how environment contributes to several human diseases.
From the 25 November 2014 NIH Press Release

Using a new imaging technique, National Institutes of Health researchers have found that the biological machinery that builds DNA can insert molecules into the DNA strand that are damaged as a result of environmental exposures. These damaged molecules trigger cell death that produces some human diseases, according to the researchers. The work, appearing online Nov. 17 in the journal Nature, provides a possible explanation for how one type of DNA damage may lead to cancer, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular and lung disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Time-lapse crystallography was used by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) researchers to determine that DNA polymerase, the enzyme responsible for assembling the nucleotides or building blocks of DNA, incorporates nucleotides with a specific kind of damage into the DNA strand. Time-lapse crystallography is a technique that takes snapshots of biochemical reactions occurring in cells.

Samuel Wilson, M.D., senior NIEHS researcher on the team, explained that the damage is caused by oxidative stress, or the generation of free oxygen molecules, in response to environmental factors, such as ultraviolet exposure, diet, and chemical compounds in paints, plastics, and other consumer products. He said scientists suspected that the DNA polymerase was inserting nucleotides that were damaged by carrying an additional oxygen atom.

DNA polymerase

After the DNA polymerase (gray molecule in background) inserts a damaged nucleotide into DNA, the damaged nucleotide is unable to bond with its undamaged partner. As a result, the damaged nucleotide swings freely within the DNA, interfering with the repair function or causing double-strand breaks. These steps may ultimately lead to several human diseases. (Graphic courtesy of Bret Freudenthal)

 

“When one of these oxidized nucleotides is placed into the DNA strand, it can’t pair with the opposing nucleotide as usual, which leaves a gap in the DNA,” Wilson said. “Until this paper, no one had actually seen how the polymerase did it or understood the downstream implications.”

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November 28, 2014 - Posted by | environmental health, Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , ,

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