Researchers in Spain have specified the role that the protein PIF1, which can undo different structures in these molecules, plays in the human body. The study found that PIF1 contains the material to allow cells to function properly, and that improperly-repaired damage to the protein can cause problems for health.

The scientists found that in order to avoid this problem, the DNA molecule must remain intact. The cell’s own metabolism, however, means there are physical and chemical alterations frequently which could compromise the information the DNA contains and cause mutations.

Scientist and author of the study Pablo Huertas noted there is still little known about the additional factors required to repair DNA parts which are configured atypically: “In this article, published in Cell Reports, we have discovered that protein PIF1, a protein with the ability to undo various DNA structures, acts during the repair of DNA breaks which can form a cross-linked structure known as a G-quadruplex.

“Our data suggests that the presence of these structures impede the work of the repair machinery, unless they are undone by PIF1. For this to happen, PIF1 needs to interact with the protein BRCA1, known for its importance in this process and whose mutations cause breast cancer.”

Identifying the role of G-quadruplexes in impeding DNA repair, could in time lead to greater understanding of what causes the accumulation of mutations associated with the appearance of tumours, and open up new therapeutic options.

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