Normal development, from fertilized egg to adult organism, depends on each cell receiving proper instructions from its environment. In response to such incoming information, receptors on a cell’s surface send signals to the nucleus that tweak gene expression and control cellular function.
However, in a number of human diseases, including cancer, cell signaling pathways can go awry. Without the correct information making its way into the nucleus, gene expression is altered, often with dire consequences.
Although researchers have long understood the importance of these signaling pathways, the mechanism through which they actually affect gene expression had been unclear. In research published this week in the journal Cell, scientists in the lab of Whitehead Institute Member Richard Young describe how a protein acts as a courier, carrying a message from a receptor on the cell’s surface to a master transcription factor on the cell’s DNA. The courier then tailors expression of genes bound by master transcription factors.