New findings into gene regulation

Imaging CoE AI Chen Davidovich and his team investigate how genes are regulated. Their research is important because when gene regulation goes wrong diseases like cancer can occur. Their research published in Molecular Cell earlier this month gives a little more insight into the gene regulation of an important enzyme.

Enzymes are highly efficient protein nanomachines and some of them work to switch genes on and off – regulate them. So, knowing how these enzymes work helps us to develop new drugs and diagnostics.

Chen told us that one of these enzymes, called the Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2), is essential to prevent thousands of inactive genes from switching on. And, by not switching on, it keeps our healthy cells healthy.

“Problems with PRC2 expression and function can lead to cancer formation or progression,” Chen said. “Accordingly, my group, and many others around the world, have been trying to understand how PRC2 works and how we can target it in to treat cancer.

“While we know PRC2 can bind to RNA emerging from active genes, what we didn’t know was how PRC2 recognises these RNA molecules,” he said.

The international research team found that PRC2 interacts and binds to a specific site of RNAs. Additionally, the researchers demonstrated that PRC2-RNA interactions can be blocked in the test tube using specific inhibitors that bind to RNAs that are normally recognised by PRC2.

The international research team was led Chen Davidovich and Nobel Laureate Thomas Cech from Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of Colorado at Boulder. The Australian team work out of the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute and were supported with data processing by two Monash Technology Research Platforms: the Bioinformatics Platform and MASSIVE.

Chen, who is also an EMBL-Australia Group Leader, explained how these findings could lead to new cancer treatments by using the PRC2 as a potential drug target.

“These findings open new doors to develop strategies to target the RNA-binding activity of PRC2. More work needs to be done to translate this into a therapeutic and to identify the circumstances where we could use such inhibitors but it is a very important first step,” he concluded.


About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.