BABRAHAM, England, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Vitamins A and C can be used to rewrite the epigenetic "memory" in cells, new research led by the Babraham Institute suggests.
The study was conducted in collaboration with the University of Stuttgart and the University of Otago. Researchers examined the effects of epigenetic modification in cells when a methyl tag is added to the C letters in DNA sequences. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A cell's identity is determined by its DNA sequence. In regenerative medicine, scientists are exploring ways to repurpose cells to support brain, heart or lung functions. Cells are able to do this in the early embryo, but adult cells need to "forget" their previous identity first. The research team found vitamin A enhances epigenetic memory erasure in embryonic stem cells, which removes methyl tags called TET. Vitamin C, by contrast, was found to boost the activity of TET enzymes.
"Both vitamins A and C act individually to promote demethylation, enhancing the erasure of epigenetic memory required for cell reprogramming," Dr. Ferdinand von Meyenn explained in a press release.
Scientists have hailed the study as a boon for regenerative medicine. Research on the effect of vitamin A on TET enzymes may explain why some patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia are resistant to treatment, and can open the door to a better approach.
"This research provides an important understanding in order to progress the development of cell treatments for regenerative medicine," Babraham Institue epigenetics program head Wolf Reik said. "It also enhances our understanding of how intrinsic and extrinsic signals shape the epigenome; knowledge that could provide valuable insight into human disease, such as acute promyelocytic leukaemia and other cancers."