Regulatory long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs)
Shen Xiaohua, Tsinghua University

Genome sequencing and discoveries over the past decade have revealed a paradigm shift in biology1,2. About 80% of the human genome is transcribed but only 2% codes for proteins. Pervasive transcription of mammalian genomes produces thousands of long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs). RNA is not merely as a messenger (mRNA) between DNA and protein but also as regulators of genome organization and biological processes.

LncRNAs are defined over 200 nucleotides in length and produced similarly as mRNA, however, lack protein-coding potential. LncRNAs are poorly conserved and expressed at low level compared to protein-coding genes. However, they often exhibit cell-type or tissue-specific expression, suggesting considerable transcriptional regulation underlying their function. Recent studies have implicated lncRNAs as versatile regulators of diverse aspects of biology in physiological and pathological contexts, including imprinting, dosage compensation, stem cell function, tissue development and cancer. Models suggest that lncRNAs may function at multiple levels of transcription, mRNA splicing and stability, translation, chromatin and protein conformation. It has been hypothesized that lncRNA-mediated gene regulation may contribute to much of phenotype complexity of higher eukaryotes. However, few lncRNAs have been functionally characterized to date, and their biological roles remain to be established. Many exciting discoveries are expected to come from the new emerging biological discipline – regulatory long noncoding RNA.

1 Pennisi, E. Shining a light on the genome's 'dark matter'. Science 330, 1614, doi:10.1126/science.330.6011.1614 (2010).

2 Morris, K. V. & Mattick, J. S. The rise of regulatory RNA. Nat Rev Genet 15, 423-437, doi:10.1038/nrg3722 (2014).

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