Skip Navigation
Genetics Home Reference: your guide to understanding genetic conditions About   Site Map   Contact Us
 
Home A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine®

Can genes be turned on and off in cells?

Previous page Next page Previous page Next page

Each cell expresses, or turns on, only a fraction of its genes. The rest of the genes are repressed, or turned off. The process of turning genes on and off is known as gene regulation. Gene regulation is an important part of normal development. Genes are turned on and off in different patterns during development to make a brain cell look and act different from a liver cell or a muscle cell, for example. Gene regulation also allows cells to react quickly to changes in their environments. Although we know that the regulation of genes is critical for life, this complex process is not yet fully understood.

Gene regulation can occur at any point during gene expression, but most commonly occurs at the level of transcription (when the information in a gene’s DNA is transferred to mRNA). Signals from the environment or from other cells activate proteins called transcription factors. These proteins bind to regulatory regions of a gene and increase or decrease the level of transcription. By controlling the level of transcription, this process can determine the amount of protein product that is made by a gene at any given time.

For more information about gene regulation:

The Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah offers an explanation of gene expression as it relates to disease riskThis link leads to a site outside Genetics Home Reference..

Education Portal provides information about gene regulation in Regulation of Gene Expression: Transcriptional Repression and InductionThis link leads to a site outside Genetics Home Reference..

Additional information about gene expressionThis link leads to a site outside Genetics Home Reference. is available from the Wellcome Trust.


Next: What is the epigenome?

 
Published: December 16, 2014