In a recent study from the University of Edinburgh, researchers have examined how cells detect damage to their DNA.
They find that the cell’s genetic material can trigger inflammation, setting in motion processes to remove damaged cells and keep tissues healthy.
The finding is important because DNA damage is a hallmark of cancer.
When potentially cancerous cells are flagged, they can be removed as part of the body’s natural surveillance systems before tumors form.
This shows that our body can detect early signs of cancer.
A key molecule called cGAS is known to bind DNA, triggering inflammation.
In the study, the team examined how this happens as DNA is usually physically separated from the rest of the cell inside a compartment called the nucleus.
When damage occurs, fragments of DNA can get separated from the nucleus and form structures called micronuclei.
The researchers discovered that cGAS could penetrate these micronuclei and bind to DNA, initiating mechanisms that lead to inflammation.
As DNA damage is often one of the early steps in the development of cancer, the detection of micronuclei by cGAS could, therefore, be an important early alarm system allowing the human body to detect and remove potentially cancerous cells.
Their findings may also shed light on how inflammation occurs in certain types of autoinflammatory diseases, where the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues.
The team hopes that this research will inform future studies into the development of improved therapeutic approaches.
The study is published in Nature.
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