Visualizing chromosomal translocations in living cells

2013

Challenge

When part of a chromosome breaks off and becomes attached to another chromosome—an abnormality called a chromosomal translocation—cells can quickly become uncontrolled, leading to excessive growth or cancer. However, because these events are very rare, it has been extremely difficult to study them.

Advance

IRP scientists led by Tom Misteli, Ph.D., used an experimental imaging system developed at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to track fluorescently labeled chromosomes in thousands of mouse cells following induced breaks in their DNA. Though the vast majority of chromosomes reattached correctly, the researchers were able to capture time-lapse video of translocations, allowing them to visualize and identify several previously unknown distinct steps and proteins involved in the process.

Impact

Dr. Misteli’s new live-cell imaging technique now allows researchers to investigate rare chromosomal abnormalities. With a better understanding of how chromosomal translocations occur, there is potential to identify new therapeutic targets that might prevent the development of many types of cancer.

Publications

Roukos V, Voss TC, Schmidt CK, Lee S, Wangsa D, Misteli T. (2013). Spatial Dynamics of Chromosome Translocations in Living Cells. Science. 341(6146), 660-4.