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Reviewed December 2012

What is the official name of the WRN gene?

The official name of this gene is “Werner syndrome, RecQ helicase-like.”

WRN is the gene's official symbol. The WRN gene is also known by other names, listed below.

Read more about gene names and symbols on the About page.

What is the normal function of the WRN gene?

The WRN gene provides instructions for producing the Werner protein, which plays a critical role in repairing damaged DNA. The Werner protein functions as a type of enzyme called a helicase. Helicase enzymes generally unwind and separate double-stranded DNA. The Werner protein also functions as an enzyme called an exonuclease. Exonucleases trim the broken ends of damaged DNA by removing DNA building blocks (nucleotides). Research suggests that the Werner protein first unwinds the DNA and then removes abnormal DNA structures that have been accidentally generated.

Overall, the Werner protein helps maintain the structure and integrity of a person's DNA. This protein plays an important role in copying (replicating) DNA before cell division and transferring the information in genes to the cell machinery that makes proteins (transcription). Additionally, recent studies suggest that the Werner protein may be particularly important for maintaining DNA at the ends of chromosomes (telomeres).

How are changes in the WRN gene related to health conditions?

Werner syndrome - caused by mutations in the WRN gene

More than 60 mutations in the WRN gene are known to cause Werner syndrome. Most of these mutations result in an abnormally short, nonfunctional Werner protein. Research suggests that this shortened protein is not transported into the cell's nucleus, where it normally interacts with DNA. Furthermore, the shortened protein is broken down more quickly than the normal Werner protein, reducing the amount of this protein in the cell. Without normal Werner protein in the nucleus, DNA replication, repair, and transcription are disrupted. Researchers are still determining how mutations in the WRN gene lead to the signs and symptoms of Werner syndrome.

cancers - associated with the WRN gene

Some changes to a person's genes are acquired during that person's lifetime and are present only in certain cells. These differences, called somatic changes, are not inherited. Somatic changes in the WRN gene are found in nonhereditary tumors and involve a process called methylation. Methylation is a chemical modification that attaches small molecules called methyl groups to certain segments of DNA. When too many methyl groups are attached to the WRN gene (hypermethylation), the gene is turned off and the Werner protein is not produced. Without this protein, cells do not respond normally to DNA damage. The lack of Werner protein allows mutations to accumulate in other genes, which may cause cells to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. This kind of unregulated cell growth can lead to the formation of cancerous tumors. Hypermethylation of the WRN gene has been found in many different types of tumors, including colon, rectal, lung, stomach, prostate, breast, and thyroid tumors.

Genetics Home Reference provides information about prostate cancer, which is also associated with changes in the WRN gene.

Where is the WRN gene located?

Cytogenetic Location: 8p12

Molecular Location on chromosome 8: base pairs 31,033,262 to 31,173,761

(Homo sapiens Annotation Release 107, GRCh38.p2) (NCBIThis link leads to a site outside Genetics Home Reference.)

The WRN gene is located on the short (p) arm of chromosome 8 at position 12.

The WRN gene is located on the short (p) arm of chromosome 8 at position 12.

More precisely, the WRN gene is located from base pair 31,033,262 to base pair 31,173,761 on chromosome 8.

See How do geneticists indicate the location of a gene? in the Handbook.

Where can I find additional information about WRN?

You and your healthcare professional may find the following resources about WRN helpful.

You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for genetics professionals and researchers.

What other names do people use for the WRN gene or gene products?

  • RECQ3
  • RECQL2
  • RECQL3
  • Werner syndrome
  • Werner Syndrome helicase
  • Werner syndrome protein

Where can I find general information about genes?

The Handbook provides basic information about genetics in clear language.

These links provide additional genetics resources that may be useful.

What glossary definitions help with understanding WRN?

cancer ; cell ; cell division ; colon ; DNA ; DNA damage ; DNA replication ; enzyme ; gene ; helicase ; inherited ; methyl ; methylation ; nucleus ; prostate ; protein ; stomach ; syndrome ; thyroid ; transcription

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.

See also Understanding Medical Terminology.

References (13 links)


The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.

Reviewed: December 2012
Published: February 8, 2016