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Protein is key to red blood cell formation

Scientists find a protein that plays an important role in blood production, which could help develop new treatments.

Lab tubes each containing blood, in a gradient that turns from yellow to red, demonstrating red blood cell formation.
MAZ binds to regions in the DNA to switch on the genes responsible for red blood cell production.

A protein has been found to play a key role in the production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen in the body, in a study led by the Roslin Institute.

The protein, known as MYC-associated zinc finger protein, or MAZ, controls which genes are switched on or off to enable blood production, scientists reported.

The discovery could help to find biological targets for treatments for blood diseases caused by mutations in the gene that produces MAZ, researchers say.

Essential protein

Scientists used a combination of methods, including DNA databases of patients, to investigate the role of the protein in red blood cells production.

MAZ binds to regions in the DNA to switch on the genes responsible for production of red blood cells, the analysis has shown.

Preventing activity in the MAZ gene impaired production of red blood cells, which shows that the protein is fundamental in producing these cells, scientists observed.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the University of Paris Diderot, the University of Bristol, the University of Oxford and the Max Planck Institute. It is published in the journal Blood Advances and was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation.

Up to 2 million red blood cells are produced every second in the bone marrow. We found that the MAZ protein, which is found in most body tissues, plays a fundamental role in their formation. We hope these findings will improve our current understanding of red blood cells production and ultimately aid the search for treatments for blood-related diseases.

Dr Douglas Vernimmen, Roslin Institute

This piece of research demonstrates how the combination of large scale computational analysis of DNA, experiments in the laboratory with cells and analysis of the DNA databases of patients can lead to new discoveries.

Dr Dasha Deen, Newcastle University, formerly of the Roslin Institute

** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from BBSRC and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

Image credit: Dr Douglas Vernimmen, Roslin Institute

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