Saturday, December 22, 2007

DNA - Chemical modifications

cytosine 5-methylcytosine thymine
Structure of cytosine with and without the 5-methyl group. After deamination the 5-methylcytosine has the same structure as thymine

Base modifications

The expression of genes is influenced by the chromatin structure of a chromosome and regions of heterochromatin (low or no gene expression) correlate with the methylation of cytosine. For example, cytosine methylation, to produce 5-methylcytosine, is important for X-chromosome inactivation.[47] The average level of methylation varies between organisms, with Caenorhabditis elegans lacking cytosine methylation, while vertebrates show higher levels, with up to 1% of their DNA containing 5-methylcytosine.[48] Despite the biological role of 5-methylcytosine it is susceptible to spontaneous deamination to leave the thymine base, and methylated cytosines are therefore mutation hotspots.[49] Other base modifications include adenine methylation in bacteria and the glycosylation of uracil to produce the "J-base" in kinetoplastids.[50][51]

DNA damage

Benzopyrene, the major mutagen in tobacco smoke, in an adduct to DNA.
Benzopyrene, the major mutagen in tobacco smoke, in an adduct to DNA.[52]

DNA can be damaged by many different sorts of mutagens. These include oxidizing agents, alkylating agents and also high-energy electromagnetic radiation such as ultraviolet light and x-rays. The type of DNA damage produced depends on the type of mutagen. For example, UV light mostly damages DNA by producing thymine dimers, which are cross-links between adjacent pyrimidine bases in a DNA strand.[53] On the other hand, oxidants such as free radicals or hydrogen peroxide produce multiple forms of damage, including base modifications, particularly of guanosine, as well as double-strand breaks.[54] It has been estimated that in each human cell, about 500 bases suffer oxidative damage per day.[55][56] Of these oxidative lesions, the most dangerous are double-strand breaks, as these lesions are difficult to repair and can produce point mutations, insertions and deletions from the DNA sequence, as well as chromosomal translocations.[57]

Many mutagens intercalate into the space between two adjacent base pairs. Intercalators are mostly aromatic and planar molecules, and include ethidium, daunomycin, doxorubicin and thalidomide. In order for an intercalator to fit between base pairs, the bases must separate, distorting the DNA strands by unwinding of the double helix. These structural changes inhibit both transcription and DNA replication, causing toxicity and mutations. As a result, DNA intercalators are often carcinogens, with benzopyrene diol epoxide, acridines, aflatoxin and ethidium bromide being well-known examples.[58][59][60] Nevertheless, due to their properties of inhibiting DNA transcription and replication, they are also used in chemotherapy to inhibit rapidly-growing cancer cells.[61]

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