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Non-coding RNAs as regulators in epigenetics (Review).

ABSTRACT

Epigenetics is a discipline that studies heritable changes in gene expression that do not involve altering the DNA sequence. Over the past decade, researchers have shown that epigenetic regulation plays a momentous role in cell growth, differentiation, autoimmune diseases, and cancer. The main epigenetic mechanisms include the well-understood phenomenon of DNA methylation, histone modifications, and regulation by non-coding RNAs, a mode of regulation that has only been identified relatively recently and is an area of intensive ongoing investigation. It is generally known that the majority of human transcripts are not translated but a large number of them nonetheless serve vital functions. Non-coding RNAs are a cluster of RNAs that do not encode functional proteins and were originally considered to merely regulate gene expression at the post-transcriptional level. However, taken together, a wide variety of recent studies have suggested that miRNAs, piRNAs, endogenous siRNAs, and long non-coding RNAs are the most common regulatory RNAs, and, significantly, there is a growing body of evidence that regulatory non-coding RNAs play an important role in epigenetic control. Therefore, these non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) highlight the prominent role of RNA in the regulation of gene expression. Herein, we summarize recent research developments with the purpose of coming to a better understanding of non-coding RNAs and their mechanisms of action in cells, thus gaining a preliminary understanding that non-coding RNAs feed back into an epigenetic regulatory network.