Immune health maintained by meticulously ordered DNA

Immune health maintained by meticulously ordered DNA

Illuminate newsletter index page, December 2018
December 2018


(L-R) Professor Gordon Smyth, Professor Stephen Nutt,
Dr Tim Johanson, Dr Hannah Coughlan and Dr Rhys Allan.

Institute researchers have revealed how a protein called Pax5 uses its exquisite organisation skills to preserve immune health.

The study, led by Dr Tim Johanson and Dr Rhys Allan, shows how Pax5 helps to organise the DNA required for immune cells to maintain their form and function, and help fight disease. A breakdown in this organisation process could increase the risk of diseases such cancer.

Dr Johanson said that Pax5 could sweep across the genome and fold, twist and store DNA for immune cells in a fantastically ordered way – making each cell into what is like a jam-packed but very neat suitcase.

“This immaculate organisation is crucial because each cell contains roughly two meters of DNA.”


DNA being meticulously ordered by the protein Pax5.
Credit: Ms Etsuko Uno.

According to Dr Allan, the disarray of DNA could lead to errors.

“Inadequate DNA organisation means cells can become at risk of morphing into something they perhaps shouldn’t be – like a cancer cell. For instance, it is unsurprising that Pax5 is faulty in many childhood leukaemias.”

Bioinformatician Dr Hannah Coughlan said recent technological advances had allowed the teams to visualise Pax5’s activity across the genome for the first time.

“With the help of powerful computers, we performed thousands of complex calculations. Our analyses showed that without Pax5, the cells could no longer package their DNA adequately.”

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