The activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID) gene has long been understood to play a role in the body’s defense against pathogens. The AID gene ensures that the B-cells responsible for antibody production can generate the antibodies that defend the body. Recently a team of research scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College published results outlining a new role for the AID gene. In these first of their kind findings researchers demonstrated the epigenetic role of the gene:
“…the researchers discovered that the enzyme encoded by the AID gene is also involved in removing chemical tags from DNA. These tags, known as methyl groups, regulate gene expression. Removing these methyl groups, a process called hypomethylation, allows B cells to rapidly change their genome in preparation for antibody production.”
“AID is a gene traditionally not known to be linked to DNA methylation, but we found that it is a player in removing methyl groups — the first time anyone has found molecules that perform this powerful form of gene regulation,” said co-senior author Dr. Olivier Elemento, an associate professor of computational genomics in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics who heads the Laboratory of Cancer Systems Biology in the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud Institute for Computational Biomedicine at Weill Cornell and co-chairs the Meyer Cancer Center Program in Genetics, Epigenetics and Systems Biology. “What is interesting is that many tumor types, and that includes B-cell lymphomas, tend to be linked to global — genome-wide — hypomethylation, compared to normal cells. How hypomethylation occurs is not well understood. AID is so far the only enzyme that has been directly linked to this active process. So AID or related enzymes could be involved in other cancers as well.”
These new findings have the potential to reveal a new cause of blood cancers and lead to the development of new strategies to treat B-cell lymphomas.