Scientists are beginning to understand the exact actions of a type of gene that, unlike other genes, does not code for proteins - the building blocks of life.
New research led by the University of Bath shows the mechanism by which genes for a subset of RNA (lncRNA) interact with neighboring genes to regulate the development and function of essential nerve cells.
Despite their prevalence over the genes coding for lncRNA in the genome (estimates range from 18,000-60,000 lncRNA genes in the human genome compared to the 20,000 protein-coding genes), these segments of DNA were once crossed out as junk precisely because the information in the It does not result in protein production.
However, it is now clear that some lncRNAs are just junk, and may play a key role in restoring physical function in people who have experienced serious neurological damage.
Although the function of most lncRNA genes remains a mystery, a subset is co-expressed in the brain along with neighboring genes encoding proteins involved in controlling gene expression.
In other words, the genes of lncRNAs and their protein-coding neighbors act as a pair. Together, they regulate the development and function of essential nerve cells, particularly in the brain during embryonic development and early life.
The new study describes the regulatory pathway that controls the expression of one of these gene pairs. Their location and quantity in the genome must be carefully coordinated, as should the timing of their activity.
"This new research advances our understanding of the fundamental biology of nerve cells and how they form. The goal is regenerative medicine, and we hope to gain a better understanding of how lncRNA genes function in the brain through additional research."
"This knowledge may be useful to scientists looking for ways to replace defective nerve cells and restore nerve function, such as in stroke patients," he adds.
The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and published today in PLOS Genetics.
Source:Reference:Pavlaki, I., et al. (2022) Chromatin interaction maps identify Wnt responsive cis-regulatory elements coordinating Paupar-Pax6 expression in neuronal cells. PLOS Genetics. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1010230.