The non-coding transcriptome as a dynamic regulator of cancer metastasis

Since the discovery of microRNAs, non-coding RNAs (NC-RNAs) have increasingly attracted the attention of cancer investigators. Two classes of NC-RNAs are emerging as putative metastasis-related genes: long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) and small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs). LncRNAs orchestrate metastatic progression through several mechanisms, including the interaction with epigenetic effectors, splicing control and generation of microRNA-like molecules. In contrast, snoRNAs have been long considered “housekeeping” genes with no relevant function in cancer. However, recent evidence challenges this assumption, indicating that some snoRNAs are deregulated in cancer cells and may play a specific role in metastasis. Interestingly, snoRNAs and lncRNAs share several mechanisms of action, and might synergize with protein-coding genes to generate a specific cellular phenotype. This evidence suggests that the current paradigm of metastatic progression is incomplete.

The authors propose that NC-RNAs are organized in complex interactive networks which orchestrate cellular phenotypic plasticity. Since plasticity is critical for cancer cell metastasis, they suggest that a molecular interactome composed by both NC-RNAs and proteins orchestrates cancer metastasis. Interestingly, expression of lncRNAs and snoRNAs can be detected in biological fluids, making them potentially useful biomarkers. NC-RNA expression profiles in human neoplasms have been associated with patients’ prognosis. SnoRNA and lncRNA silencing in pre-clinical models leads to cancer cell death and/or metastasis prevention, suggesting they can be investigated as novel therapeutic targets. Based on the literature to date, the authors critically discuss how the NC-RNA interactome can be explored and manipulated to generate more effective diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic strategies for metastatic neoplasms.

  • Crea F, Clermont PL, Parolia A, Wang Y, Helgason CD. (2013) The non-coding transcriptome as a dynamic regulator of cancer metastasis. Cancer Metastasis Rev [Epub ahead of print]. [abstract]

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