Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, conducted by Tej K. Pandita, Ph.D., associate professor of radiation oncology and of genetics and a researcher with the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital and team have conducted the first extensive study of an enzyme called MOF that helps control how DNA is packaged in cells.
In the study, the researchers showed that MOF is an essential factor for tumour development.
MOF adds a tag 'a special chemical group' to the spools that hold the long strands of DNA in the chromosomes.
The spools, made of proteins called histones, pack the genetic material into a more condensed form.
By adding a tag at a precise location on one kind of histone, MOF helps relax the tight packing of genes and thereby influences how active the genes are.
Although many enzymes are involved in controlling chromosome structure to maintain cells' genetic machinery, MOF is so essential that without it cells inevitably die.
The team said that it might be possible to manipulate the enzyme to make tumours more sensitive to radiation therapy.
"We think that if we can deplete MOF in tumor cells, but not in healthy cells, we will gain a therapeutic advantage," Pandita said.
"If we affect MOF in tumor cells, they will be weakened and unable to recover after radiation exposure," he added.
The study also confirmed that cells with less MOF were more sensitive to radiation exposure.
The study will be published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Biology.