DNA may be the stuff of life, but if it isn’t repaired in our bodies on a regular basis, it can lead to diseases that can cause some pretty unpleasant types of death. DNA damage has been linked to the formation of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, COPD and many other serious and often life-threatening conditions. It has also been implicated in our natural aging process. Now researchers may have found a key to why DNA is repaired in certain cells but not in others: a set of proteins called the DREAM complex. The findings may have implications for warding off cancer and extending life, although more research is needed.

However, in the case of germ cells, which are egg and sperm precursor cells, DNA damage is normally much less than what is seen in adult cells. The thinking is that because germ cells are responsible for transmitting genetic material from parents to children, evolution has seen to it that damage to the DNA in these critical information carriers is kept to a minimum.

In an effort to find out why this difference between germ cells and mature body cells exists, a research team at the University of Cologne found out that the more developed cells have a group of proteins in them called the DREAM complex (dimerization partner [DP], retinoblastoma [RB]-like, E2F and MuvB), while germ cells do not.

The study confirmed the theory, and the scientists found that the presence of the DREAM complex did, in fact, limit how many DNA repair mechanisms existed in the nematode cells. “The complex attaches to the DNA’s construction plans containing instructions for the repair mechanisms,” says a summary of the research. “This prevents them from being produced in large quantities.”

Preserving vision

In an additional phase of the study, the team saw success in mice that were genetically predisposed to premature aging. By inhibiting the DREAM complex, the researchers were able to reverse natural damage to DNA in the animals’ retinas, which in turn preserved their vision.

The team says more research will be needed, but add that the discovery of how the DREAM complex keeps cells from repairing their DNA could open the door to slowing down the ravages of aging and fighting off a range of diseases – including radiation damage from space travel.

“Our findings for the first time allow us to improve DNA repair in body cells and to target the causes of aging and cancer development,” said Prof. Björn Schumacher, Director of the Institute for Genome Stability in Aging and Disease at the University of Cologne’s CECAD Cluster of Excellence in Aging Research.


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