Scientists have found an important step in the creation of new red blood cells.
Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center found that a tiny fragment of ribonucleic acid (RNA), a chemical cousin of DNA, prompts stem cells to mature into red blood cells. The researchers also created an artificial RNA inhibitor to block this process.
Such interventions, if fruitful in humans, might be useful against some cancers and other diseases, such as polycythemia vera, in which the body produces a life-threatening excess of blood cells.
Conversely, a drug that boosts red blood cell production might be useful against anemia, blood loss or altitude sickness.
"The important finding is that this microRNA, miR-451, is a powerful natural regulator of red blood cell production," said Dr. Eric Olson, chairman of molecular biology at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study.
"We also showed that a man-made miR-451 inhibitor can reduce miR-451 levels in a mouse and block blood-cell production. We hope that this inhibitor and similarly functioning molecules might lead to new drugs against the fatal disease polycythemia vera, which currently has no therapies," said Dr. Olson.
The study appears in the Aug. 1 issue of Genes and Development.