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New roles emerge for non-coding RNAs in directing embryonic development
Date:8/28/2011

Scientists at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have discovered that a mysterious class of large RNAs plays a central role in embryonic development, contrary to the dogma that proteins alone are the master regulators of this process. The research, published online August 28 in the journal Nature, reveals that these RNAs orchestrate the fate of embryonic stem (ES) cells by keeping them in their fledgling state or directing them along the path to cell specialization.

Broad scientists discovered several years ago that the human and mouse genomes encode thousands of unusual RNAs termed large, intergenic non-coding RNAs (lincRNAs) but their role was almost entirely unknown. By studying more than 100 lincRNAs in ES cells, the researchers now show that these RNAs help regulate development by physically interacting with proteins to coordinate gene expression and suggest that lincRNAs may play similar roles in most cells.

"There's been a lot of debate about what lincRNAs are doing," said Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute and the senior author of the paper. "It's now clear that they play critical roles in regulating developmental decisions that is, cell fate. This was a big surprise, because specific types of proteins have been thought to be the master controls of development."

"This is the first global study of lincRNAs," said Mitchell Guttman, first author of the paper and a graduate student at MIT and the Broad Institute. "We picked embryonic stem cells in particular because they are so important to development and so well understood. This allowed us to dissect the role of lincRNAs within the circuitry of a cell."

The researchers used genetic tools to inhibit more than 100 lincRNAs and found that the vast majority more than 90 percent had a significant impact on embryonic stem cells, indicating that the RNAs play a key role in the cells' circuitry.

Embryonic stem cells can follow one of two main
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Contact: Haley Bridger
hbridger@broadinstitute.org
617-714-7968
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Source:Eurekalert

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