UK researchers show how BRCA2 protein helps to repair DNA

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers in London have shown for the first time how the protein made by the BRCA2 gene helps to repair DNA damage.

“These new insights might help develop preventative treatment approaches to overcome faults in BRCA2 in the future" - Dr Emma Smith, Cancer Research UK

It has long been known that the protein plays a role in repairing damaged DNA, and that people who inherit faults in BRCA2 have a higher risk of developing certain forms of cancer – notably breast, prostate and ovarian cancers.

But, until now scientists did not know exactly what BRCA2 looked like and how it worked - making it more difficult to develop therapies targeting the protein.

BRCA2 was first identified by Cancer Research UK funded scientists in the 1990s, but the first glimpses of its physical appearance weren’t revealed until 2010, paving the way for detailed studies.

Dr Emma Smith, senior science communications officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "This fascinating research sheds light on the important role the molecule normally plays in protecting us from these diseases.

“These new insights might help develop preventative treatment approaches to overcome faults in BRCA2 in the future and help stop people developing cancer."

Professor Xiaodong Zhang, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, and Dr Stephen West from the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute led the study.

Their teams used an electron microscope to show BRCA2's structure and reveal its interactions with other proteins, and with DNA itself.

The researchers found that BRCA2 proteins work in pairs, and in partnership with another protein known as RAD51

Professor Zhang said the research improves scientists' understanding of one of the most well-known cancer genes, and gives researchers "a platform to design new experiments" which could help explain the protein's mechanism even better.

He said the next step is to add "more detail to the picture", which could allow his team to develop ways in which BRCA2 defects can be corrected so that cells can repair DNA more effectively.

The team also wants to examine whether it is possible to disable or weaken the BRCA2-linked DNA repair process in cancer cells so that they die.

It is thought that one in 1,000 Britons carries a faulty BRCA2 gene.

The research was published in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.

Image from Flickr via a CC-BY license


  • Shahid, T, et al. (2014). Structure and mechanism of action of the BRCA2 breast cancer tumor suppressor Nature Structural & Molecular Biology DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.2899