The human genome encodes tens of thousands of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), a novel and important class of genes. Our knowledge of lncRNAs has grown exponentially since their discovery within the last decade. lncRNAs are expressed in a highly cell- and tissue-specific manner, and are particularly abundant within the nervous system. lncRNAs are subject to post-transcriptional processing and inter- and intra-cellular transport. lncRNAs act via a spectrum of molecular mechanisms leveraging their ability to engage in both sequence-specific and conformational interactions with diverse partners (DNA, RNA, and proteins). Because of their size, lncRNAs act in a modular fashion, bringing different macromolecules together within the three-dimensional context of the cell. lncRNAs thus coordinate the execution of transcriptional, post-transcriptional, and epigenetic processes and critical biological programs (growth and development, establishment of cell identity, and deployment of stress responses). Emerging data reveal that lncRNAs play vital roles in mediating the developmental complexity, cellular diversity, and activity-dependent plasticity that are hallmarks of brain.
Corresponding studies implicate these factors in brain aging and the pathophysiology of brain disorders, through evolving paradigms including the following:
(i) genetic variation in lncRNA genes causes disease and influences susceptibility;
(ii) epigenetic deregulation of lncRNAs genes is associated with disease;
(iii) genomic context links lncRNA genes to disease genes and pathways; and
(iv) lncRNAs are otherwise interconnected with known pathogenic mechanisms.
Hence, lncRNAs represent prime targets that can be exploited for diagnosing and treating nervous system diseases. Such clinical applications are in the early stages of development but are rapidly advancing because of existing expertise and technology platforms that are readily adaptable for these purposes.
- Qureshi IA, Mehler MF. (2013) Long Non-coding RNAs: Novel Targets for Nervous System Disease Diagnosis and Therapy. Neurotherapeutics [Epub ahead of print]. [abstract]