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Genes Seem to Affect Tissues Differently

TUESDAY Dec. 23, 2008 -- The same gene acting very differently in different tissues may contribute to certain human traits, including how likely a person is to get a disease, a new report says.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center found a wide variance in gene expression -- the amount of protein it tells cells to produce. Such variation can lead to alternative splicing, a process that can create different proteins from the same gene and might be important to disease formation.

"A genetic variant might influence the expression of a gene or the type of protein that is made because of splicing changes in brain cells but not in blood cells, or in blood cells but not brain cells," senior author David Goldstein, director of the Center for Human Genome Variation at Duke's Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, said in a university news release.

As such, researchers should look at tissue directly affected by a disease, such as brain tissue, when studying epilepsy or Alzheimer's disease. Often, researchers look at gene expression in blood cells, because they are easy to obtain and work with, he said.

The findings were published in the Dec. 22 online version of PLoS Biology.

In the Duke study, researchers found dramatic variations in gene expression in blood and brain cells.

"It really shows that we need to build up a very comprehensive picture of how genetic variation influences gene expression in specific tissues," first author Erin Heinzen said in the same news release.

Goldstein said the findings will "reorient our attention toward what is happening in specific and relevant tissues. At the same time, we're looking at the way that genetic variation influences the types of proteins that are made, as opposed to just the abundance."

More information

The Genetics Home Reference has more about how genes affect protein production.

Posted: December 2008


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