Washington: Researchers have suggested that changes to two previously unstudied genes are the centerpiece of a new theory regarding the cause and development of endometriosis.
The discovery by Northwestern Medicine scientists suggests epigenetic modification, a process that enhances or disrupts how DNA is read, is an integral component of the disease and its progression.
Matthew Dyson, research assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and and Serdar Bulun , MD, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Feinberg and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, also identified a novel role for a family of key gene regulators in the uterus.
Women develop endometriosis when cells from the lining of the uterus, usually shed during menstruation, grow in other areas of the body. The persistent survival of these cells results in chronic pelvic pain and infertility.
Endometriosis only occurs in menstruating primates, suggesting that the unique evolution behind uterine development and menstruation are linked to the disease. Scientists consider retrograde menstruation - cells moving up the fallopian tubes and into the pelvis - as one probable cause.
Bulun and Dyson propose that an epigenetic switch permits the expression of the genetic receptor GATA6 rather than GATA2, resulting in progesterone resistance and disease development.
"We believe an overwhelming number of these altered cells reach the lining of the abdominal cavity, survive and grow," Bulun said.
Bulun said clinicians could then prevent the disease by placing teenagers predisposed to this epigenetic change on a birth control pill regimen, preventing the possibility of retrograde menstruation in the first place.
The findings have been published in journal PLoS Genetics.
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