News Release

Jumping genes which can lead to rare syndrome in children identified

A new family of DNA elements which control the activation of certain genes known to cause a rare disease known as MSL3 syndrome in children has been identified.

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Queen Mary University of London


A new family of DNA elements which control the activation of certain genes known to cause a rare disease known as MSL3 syndrome in children has been identified. 

The study led by researchers at the Queen Mary University of London and published today in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology shines a new light on the mechanism behind this poorly understood disease, hoping that it can lead to better treatments for this and similar diseases in the future. 

Mutations in the MSL3 gene are known to cause a rare disease in children called MSL3 syndrome - a newly discovered disease with only around 50 registered diagnoses worldwide, although scientists predict that more cases are currently undiagnosed. 

It is a disease that is in desperate need of attention. The mechanism through which MSL3 mutations lead to this syndrome is not known. There is only one previous study which discovered this disease gene, but it is not clear why mutations in MSL3 cause this disorder. 

The researchers identified that a family of mobile DNA known as LINE1 elements could function as a switch to turn on certain genes. Researchers previously thought that the MSL3 complex regulates genes directly. This research shows that the MSL3 complex regulates genes by activating these mobile DNA elements. 

Mutations in the MSL3 gene can lead to perturbation of genes involved in development. The developmental genes are intact, but the programme that determines how the genetic information will be fine-tuned is impaired. This could lead to a global delay in the development of multiple organs, including the brain. 

This research was funded by the UK Research and Innovation Medical Research Council and Barts Charity and led by Dr Pradeepa Madapura along with his team of postdoctoral researchers, Dr Debosree Pal and Dr Manthan Patel from Queen Mary University of London, and collaborators from the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute at the University of Cambridge and the Francis Crick Institute. 

 “Although these DNA elements are popularly known as jumping genes, most are immobile and not harmful. We only know the tip of the iceberg about how host species are using this virus-like DNA to our own advantage,” says lead author Dr Pradeepa Madapura. 

Although this work provides novel insights into how MSL functions to regulate our genome, further research is needed to test whether drugs that alter this epigenetic pathway alleviate symptoms in children with mutations in their MSL genes. However, many epigenetic drugs that target this pathway are already in clinical trials for cancer therapy. 



Notes to editors 

Research paper:  'H4K16ac activates the transcription of transposable elements and contributes to their cis-regulatory function', 

DOI number  10.1038/s41594-023-01016-5.  


Link to paper available after embargo lifts: 

For more information, please contact: Lee Pinkerton - Faculty Communications Officer (Medicine and Dentistry) Queen Mary University of London   Tel: +44 (0) 7985 446 280 



About Queen Mary University of London 

At Queen Mary University of London, we believe that a diversity of ideas helps us achieve the previously unthinkable. 

Throughout our history, we’ve fostered social justice and improved lives through academic excellence. And we continue to live and breathe this spirit today, not because it’s simply ‘the right thing to do’ but for what it helps us achieve and the intellectual brilliance it delivers. 

Our reformer heritage informs our conviction that great ideas can and should come from anywhere. It’s an approach that has brought results across the globe, from the communities of east London to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. 

We continue to embrace diversity of thought and opinion in everything we do, in the belief that when views collide, disciplines interact, and perspectives intersect, truly original thought takes form. 


About Barts Charity 

  • Barts Charity is dedicated to supporting improvements to healthcare and transformative research with a primary focus on the issues that matter to the people of East London. It does this by funding high-quality research, innovative patient care projects and NHS staff wellbeing initiatives that would otherwise not be funded by the NHS or other funders. 

  • It focuses its funding on supporting Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs St Bartholomew’s, The Royal London, Mile End, Whipps Cross and Newham Hospitals, and the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary University of London, where there are six medical research institutes. We also support researchers at the School of Health Sciences at City, University of London. 


The Francis Crick Institute is a biomedical discovery institute dedicated to understanding the fundamental biology underlying health and disease. Its work is helping to understand why disease develops and to translate discoveries into new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, infections, and neurodegenerative diseases. 

An independent organisation, its founding partners are the Medical Research Council (MRC), Cancer Research UK, Wellcome, UCL (University College London), Imperial College London and King’s College London. 

The Crick was formed in 2015, and in 2016 it moved into a brand new state-of-the-art building in central London which brings together 1500 scientists and support staff working collaboratively across disciplines, making it the biggest biomedical research facility under a single roof in Europe. 

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