I am a scientist specialized in genetics and metabolism.
Who would have thought junk could be so useful...
In 10 seconds? Over 98% of our genome does not code for any genes and was believed to have no biological function. But recent research has shown that this “junk DNA” plays an essential role in development and disease.
How can noncoding DNA have any impact on development? Although noncoding DNA does not code for any protein, most of it is transcripted to RNA. In fact, the Encyclopaedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project has shown that around 80% of noncoding DNA is transcripted and that this RNA plays an important part in the epigenetic control of gene expression, being involved in almost all cellular processes.
What kind of RNA are we talking about? Noncoding RNA (ncRNA) has multiple forms: microRNA (miRNA), small-interfering RNA (siRNA) and P-element-induced wimpy testis (PIWI)-interacting RNA (piRNA), which are short and negatively regulate gene expression by aiming mRNA and inactivating or degrading it; and long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) which are more complex and affect both positively and negatively gene expression.
Why is long noncoding RNA more complex? lncRNAs share several features with coding transcripts, such as differential expression due to epigenetic regulation, and the presence of introns and splice variants. Thus, their expression, and therefore function, can be highly diverse. For example, they can inhibit miRNAs, thereby boosting the expression of the gene regulated by them; they can also directly activate transcription of neighboring genes, such as enhancer RNAs (eRNAs) and activating ncRNAs (ncRNA-as); or inhibit gene expression by targeting mRNA for degradation or inactivating transcription, such as the X-chromosome inactivation (XIST) lncRNA, responsible for silencing regions of the X chromosome, such that only one copy of a given gene of this chromosome is expressed.
And what function do they have on development and disease? Although the function of most noncoding RNAs remains to be determined, they have been shown to play an important role in spatiotemporal and cell-type specific gene expression, regulating cell growth and differentiation, and therefore in several diseases, such as cancer, like the noncoding RNA CASC2, a potential tumor suppressor.
Abstract: Studying cancer metabolism gives insight into tumorigenic survival mechanisms and susceptibilities. In melanoma, we identify HEXIM1, a transcription elongation regulator, as a melanoma tumor suppressor that responds to nucleotide stress. HEXIM1 expression is low in melanoma. Its overexpression in a zebrafish melanoma model suppresses cancer formation, while its inactivation accelerates tumor onset in vivo. Knockdown of HEXIM1 rescues zebrafish neural crest defects and human melanoma proliferation defects that arise from nucleotide depletion. Under nucleotide stress, HEXIM1 is induced to form an inhibitory complex with P-TEFb, the kinase that initiates transcription elongation, to inhibit elongation at tumorigenic genes. The resulting alteration in gene expression also causes anti-tumorigenic RNAs to bind to and be stabilized by HEXIM1. HEXIM1 plays an important role in inhibiting cancer cell-specific gene transcription while also facilitating anti-cancer gene expression. Our study reveals an important role for HEXIM1 in coupling nucleotide metabolism with transcriptional regulation in melanoma.
Pub.: 09 Apr '16, Pinned: 03 Jan '18
Abstract: Over the past decade, it has become clear that mammalian genomes encode thousands of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), many of which are now implicated in diverse biological processes. Recent work studying the molecular mechanisms of several key examples - including Xist, which orchestrates X chromosome inactivation - has provided new insights into how lncRNAs can control cellular functions by acting in the nucleus. Here we discuss emerging mechanistic insights into how lncRNAs can regulate gene expression by coordinating regulatory proteins, localizing to target loci and shaping three-dimensional (3D) nuclear organization. We explore these principles to highlight biological challenges in gene regulation, in which lncRNAs are well-suited to perform roles that cannot be carried out by DNA elements or protein regulators alone, such as acting as spatial amplifiers of regulatory signals in the nucleus.
Pub.: 27 Oct '16, Pinned: 24 Jun '17
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.
Pub.: 15 Nov '16, Pinned: 24 Jun '17
Abstract: Understanding how transcriptional enhancers control over 20,000 protein-coding genes to maintain cell-type-specific gene expression programs in all human cells is a fundamental challenge in regulatory biology. Recent studies suggest that gene regulatory elements and their target genes generally occur within insulated neighborhoods, which are chromosomal loop structures formed by the interaction of two DNA sites bound by the CTCF protein and occupied by the cohesin complex. Here, we review evidence that insulated neighborhoods provide for specific enhancer-gene interactions, are essential for both normal gene activation and repression, form a chromosome scaffold that is largely preserved throughout development, and are perturbed by genetic and epigenetic factors in disease. Insulated neighborhoods are a powerful paradigm for gene control that provides new insights into development and disease.
Pub.: 20 Nov '16, Pinned: 24 Jun '17
Abstract: The expansive dimension of non-coding genes is by now a well-recognized feature of eukaryotes genomes. Over the past decades, in vitro functional studies and in vivo manipulation of non-coding genes through Genetically Engineered Mouse Models (GEMMs) have provided compelling evidence that almost every biological phenomenon is regulated, at some level, by non-coding RNA transcripts or by coding RNAs with non-coding functions. In this opinion article, we will discuss how recent discoveries in the field of non-coding RNAs are contributing to advance our understanding of evolution and organismal complexity and its relevance to human diseases.
Pub.: 20 Nov '16, Pinned: 24 Jun '17
Abstract: Animals rely on genomic regulatory systems to direct the dynamic spatiotemporal and cell-type specific gene expression that is essential for the development and maintenance of a multicellular lifestyle. Although it is widely appreciated that these systems ultimately evolved from genomic regulatory mechanisms present in single-celled stem metazoans, it remains unclear how this occurred. Here, we focus on the contribution of the non-coding portion of the genome to the evolution of animal gene regulation, specifically on recent insights from non-bilaterian metazoan lineages, and unicellular and colonial holozoan sister taxa. High-throughput next-generation sequencing, largely in bilaterian model species, has led to the discovery of tens of thousands of non-coding RNA genes (ncRNAs), including short, long and circular forms, and uncovered the central roles they play in development. Based on the analysis of non-bilaterian metazoan, unicellular holozoan, and fungal genomes, the evolution of some ncRNAs, such as Piwi-interacting RNAs, correlates with the emergence of metazoan multicellularity, while others, including microRNAs, long non-coding RNAs, and circular RNAs, appear to be more ancient. Analysis of non-coding regulatory DNA and histone post-translational modifications have revealed that some cis-regulatory mechanisms, such as those associated with proximal promoters, are present in non-animal holozoans while others appear to be metazoan innovations, most notably distal enhancers. In contrast, the cohesin-CTCF system for regulating higher-order chromatin structure and enhancer-promoter long-range interactions appears to be restricted to bilaterians. Taken together, most bilaterian non-coding regulatory mechanisms appear to have originated before the divergence of crown metazoans. However, differential expansion of non-coding RNA and cis-regulatory DNA repertoires in bilaterians may account for their increased regulatory and morphological complexity relative to non-bilaterians.
Pub.: 24 Nov '16, Pinned: 24 Jun '17
Abstract: Finding non-coding RNA (ncRNA) genes has emerged over the past few years as a cutting-edge trend in bioinformatics. There are numerous computational intelligence (CI) challenges in the annotation and interpretation of ncRNAs because it requires a domain-related expert knowledge in CI techniques. Moreover, there are many classes predicted yet not experimentally verified by researchers. Recently, researchers have applied many CI methods to predict the classes of ncRNAs. However, the diverse CI approaches lack a definitive classification framework to take advantage of past studies. A few review papers have attempted to summarize CI approaches, but focused on the particular methodological viewpoints. Accordingly, in this article, we summarize in greater detail than previously available, the CI techniques for finding ncRNAs genes. We differentiate from the existing bodies of research and discuss concisely the technical merits of various techniques. Lastly, we review the limitations of ncRNA gene-finding CI methods with a point-of-view towards the development of new computational tools.
Pub.: 03 Dec '16, Pinned: 24 Jun '17
Abstract: Advances in genomics technology over recent years have led to the surprising discovery that the genome is far more pervasively transcribed than was previously appreciated. Much of the newly-discovered transcriptome appears to represent long non-coding RNA (lncRNA), a heterogeneous group of largely uncharacterised transcripts. Understanding the biological function of these molecules represents a major challenge and in this review we discuss some of the progress made to date. One major theme of lncRNA biology seems to be the existence of a network of interactions with microRNA (miRNA) pathways. lncRNA has been shown to act as both a source and an inhibitory regulator of miRNA. At the transcriptional level, a model is emerging whereby lncRNA bridges DNA and protein by binding to chromatin and serving as a scaffold for modifying protein complexes. Such a mechanism can bridge promoters to enhancers or enhancer-like non-coding genes by regulating chromatin looping, as well as conferring specificity on histone modifying complexes by directing them to specific loci.
Pub.: 23 May '17, Pinned: 24 Jun '17
Abstract: Long non-coding RNAs cover large part of the non-coding information of the human DNA, which represents more than 90% of the whole genome. They constitute a wide and complex group of molecules with more than 200 nucleotides, which generally lack an open reading frame, and are involved in various ways in the pathophysiology of cancer. Their roles in the regulation of gene expression, imprinting, transcription, and post-translational processing have been described in several types of cancer. CASC2 was discovered in 2004 in patients with endometrial carcinoma as a potential tumor suppressor. Since then, additional studies in other types of neoplasia have been carried out, and both mechanisms and interactions of CASC2 in cancer have been better elucidated. In this review, we summarize the current knowledge on the role of CASC2 in the genesis, progression, and clinical management of human cancer.
Pub.: 06 Mar '17, Pinned: 24 Jun '17
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