CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Researchers report this month that MALAT1, a long non-coding RNA that is implicated in certain cancers, regulates pre-mRNA splicing a critical step in the earliest stage of protein production. Their study appears in the journal Molecular Cell.
Nearly 5 percent of the human genome codes for proteins, and scientists are only beginning to understand the role of the rest of the "non-coding" genome. Among the least studied non-coding genes which are transcribed from DNA to RNA but generally are not translated into proteins are the long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs).
Before the human genome was fully sequenced, it was a "protein-centric world," said University of Illinois cell and developmental biology professor Kannanganattu Prasanth, who led the study. With the sequencing of the genome it became clear, however, that a majority of genes code for RNAs that are not translated into proteins.
In recent years, research on non-coding RNAs has blossomed, but most studies have focused only on small non-coding RNAs, which play critical roles in several aspects of cellular function. There have been comparatively fewer studies on lncRNAs, Prasanth said. As a result, researchers are only beginning to understand the functions of a few lncRNAs.
Prasanth's laboratory focuses on understanding the role of lncRNAs, such as MALAT1, which normally are distributed in the nucleus of mammalian cells.
Preliminary studies suggest that lncRNAs carry out vital regulatory functions in cells. When those functions go awry, Prasanth said, serious consequences can result. Abnormal expression of the MALAT1 gene, for example, is implicated in many cancers, including breast, lung and liver cancers, "so the scientific world was interested in what this RNA could be doing in normal cells, and how changes in its expression correlate with cancer," he said.
Prasanth was also the co-first-author of another study, recently publis
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign