Wayne State Prof’s Paper Offers New Understanding Of Disease

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A partnering between a protein-editing enzyme and its protein cousin helps shape the mechanism underlying infections such as Hepatitis C and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, according to a paper by Wayne State University researcher David Rueda.

Rueda is assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the study was published in the October 13 issue of Nature. Its co-authors included graduate research assistant Krishanthi Karunatilaka and postdoctoral fellow Amanda Solem, both in WSU’s Department of Chemistry, and a team from Yale led by Professor of Chemistry Anna Marie Pyle.

The study uncovered an important step in the structure of the group II intron, an RNA gene-editing mechanism. The study found that the yeast protein Mss116 plays a key role in helping group II introns and other RNAs adopt their proper shape.

“The interaction between group II intron RNA and Mss116 is particularly interesting when considering how ancient RNA is and how relatively young the protein is in comparison,” Rueda said. “It’s an excellent example of how the tireless problem-solving drive of evolution is always at work, even if at first it does not appear to be.”

“A lot of diseases are associated with RNA machines not working properly. RNA performs many fundamental functions within the cell, and if they don’t happen correctly, serious diseases can result — Alzheimer’s, cancer and Huntington’s disease, as well as viruses such as West Nile. By understanding the steps by which RNA folds into their functional structure, we may discover how to cure some very devastating diseases.”

Group II introns are a type of RNA, a nucleic acid similar in composition to DNA that is sometimes referred to as DNA’s “chemical cousin.” Contrary to previous scientific consensus, which held that proteins govern most cellular activities, the past two decades of research have revealed RNA’s important roles in the maintenance, transfer and processing of genetic information, as well as the control of gene expression in living cells. As its significance has become more apparent, RNA has become an increasingly important target for understanding disease prevention and treatment.

“The results break new ground in the effort to understand an integral part of many of the world’s most deadly diseases, Rueda said. “This discovery fuels further research on RNA’s structure and dynamics, and how we can use this knowledge to stop disease.”

To view the study abstract, visit  www.nature.com/nature/journal/v467/n7318/full/nature09422.html.

(c) 2010, WWJ Newsradio 950. All rights reserved.

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