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UNC scientists find missing link between players in the epigenetic code

  • Posted: October 3, 2012

Over the last two decades, scientists have come to understand that the genetic code held within DNA represents only part of the blueprint of life. The rest comes from specific patterns of chemical tags that overlay the DNA structure, determining how tightly the DNA is packaged and how accessible certain genes are to be switched on or off. Now, research from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine has established the first link between the two most fundamental epigenetic tags -- histone modification and DNA methylation -- in humans. The study, which was published Sept. 30, 2012 by the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, implicates a protein called UHRF1 in the maintenance of these epigenetic tags. Because the protein has been found to be defective in cancer, the finding could help scientists understand not only how microscopic chemical changes can ultimately affect the epigenetic landscape but also give clues to the underlying causes of disease and cancer. UNC is home to the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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NCI comprehensive cancer centers logoAmong the research institutions NCI funds across the United States, it currently designates 67 as Cancer Centers. Largely based in research universities, these facilities are home to many of the NCI-supported scientists who conduct a wide range of intense, laboratory research into cancer’s origins and development. The Cancer Centers Program also focuses on trans-disciplinary research, including population science and clinical research. The centers’ research results are often at the forefront of studies in the cancer field.