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‘Quadruple Helix’ DNA Structure Exists In Human Cells

22 January, 2013


MessageToEagle.com - Based on the scientific contributions of such famous scientists as Swiss chemist Friedrich Miescher who first identified DNA in the late 1860s, Phoebus Levene and Erwin Chargaff who carried out a series of research efforts that revealed additional details about the DNA - Cambridge researchers Watson and Crick could propose the Double Helix DNA structure in 1953.

Now, Cambridge researchers have discovered that four-stranded 'quadruple helix' DNA structures - known as G-quadruplexes - also exist within the human genome.

They form in regions of DNA that are rich in the building block guanine, usually abbreviated to 'G'.

The research published today in Nature Chemistry show clear links between concentrations of four-stranded quadruplexes and the process of DNA replication, which is pivotal to cell division and production.


By targeting quadruplexes with synthetic molecules that trap and contain these DNA structures - preventing cells from replicating their DNA and consequently blocking cell division - scientists believe it may be possible to halt the runaway cell proliferation at the root of cancer.

"We are seeing links between trapping the quadruplexes with molecules and the ability to stop cells dividing, which is hugely exciting," said Professor Shankar Balasubramanian from the University of Cambridge's Department of Chemistry and Cambridge Research Institute, whose group produced the research.

"The research indicates that quadruplexes are more likely to occur in genes of cells that are rapidly dividing, such as cancer cells.

For us, it strongly supports a new paradigm to be investigated - using these four-stranded structures as targets for personalised treatments in the future."

Physical studies over the last couple of decades had shown that quadruplex DNA can form in vitro - in the 'test tube', but the structure was considered to be a curiosity rather than a feature found in nature.

The researchers now know for the first time that they actually form in the DNA of human cells.

"This research further highlights the potential for exploiting these unusual DNA structures to beat cancer - the next part of this pipeline is to figure out how to target them in tumour cells," said Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK.

"We have found that by trapping the quadruplex DNA with synthetic molecules we can sequester and stabilise them, providing important insights into how we might grind cell division to a halt," said Balasubramanian.

"There is a lot we don't know yet. One thought is that these quadruplex structures might be a bit of a nuisance during DNA replication - like knots or tangles that form.

"Did they evolve for a function? It's a philosophical question as to whether they are there by design or not - but they exist and nature has to deal with them. Maybe by targeting them we are contributing to the disruption they cause."

The study published was led by Giulia Biffi, a researcher in Balasubramaninan's lab at the Cambridge Research Institute.

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See also:
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