The finding is scheduled for advanced online publication in Nature Genetics (http://www.
"FA is a disease that appears to be the result of a breakdown in vital DNA repair mechanisms," said Weidong Wang, Ph.D., a senior investigator in the NIA's Laboratory of Genetics, who led the study. "Some scientists theorize that DNA damage, which gradually accumulates as we age, leads to malfunctioning genes and deteriorating tissues and organs as well as increased risk of cancer. We believe that this new gene, FANCM, may be a potent cog in the DNA repair machinery," Wang said. "It is possible that we could learn how to promote the function of DNA repair complexes and thereby prevent the age-related accumulation of DNA damage."
FANCM, like most genes, contains information for making a specific protein. The FANCM protein, part of the molecular machine called the FA core complex, is the only protein within this machine that affects DNA by enzyme activity (enzymes are proteins that encourage biochemical reactions, usually speeding them up). FANCM apparently provides an engine that moves the FA DNA repair machine along the length of DNA. It also is a key component of the complex that is switched "on" or "off" by phosphorylation, or the addition of a phosphate group to a protein, in response to DNA damage. In the future, researchers hope to use the newly-discovered activities of FANCM as targets to select drugs that enhance the FA DNA damage response for intervention in patients.
Fanconi anemia, named for Swiss pediatrician Guido Fanconi, affects about 1 in every 300,000 children. If both parents have the same mutation in the same FA gene, each of their children has a one-in-four chance of inheriting the defective gene from both parents and developing FA or certain types of cancer. The disease leads to bone marrow failure (aplastic anemia) and is associated with birth defects such as missing or extra thumbs and skeletal abnormalities of the hips, spine, or ribs. Many who have FA eventually develop acute myeloid leukemia and are prone to head and neck, gastrointestinal, and other cancers. The first symptoms, such as nose bleeds or easy bruising, usually begin before age 12. In rare instances, however, symptoms do not become apparent until adulthood. This is the third FA gene and protein combination identified in the last 3 years by Wang and his colleagues.
In addition to the NIA, researchers were supported by the FA Research Fund in Eugene, OR, the Daniel Ayling Fanconi Anemia Trust, the Dutch Cancer Society, and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development.
The NIA is one of 27 institutes and centers at the NIH. The Institute leads Federal efforts to support and conduct basic, clinical, epidemiological, and social research on aging and the special needs of older people. Press releases, fact sheets, and other materials about aging and aging research can be viewed at the NIA's general information web site, www.nia.nih.gov. Please note: Dr. Wang will be available for interviews on weekdays.
*AR Meetei et al, "A Human Orthologue of Archaeal DNA Repair Protein Hef is Defective in Fanconi Anemia Complementation Group M," Nature Genet., August 21, 2005, 1 p.m. online.