The function of the non-coding portion of the human genome remains one of the most important questions of our time. Its vast complexity is exemplified by the recent identification of an unusual and notable component of the transcriptome – very long intergenic non-coding RNAs, termed vlincRNAs.
Here a team led by researchers from the St. Laurent Institute identify 2,147 vlincRNAs covering 10 percent of our genome. They show they are present not only in cancerous cells, but also in primary cells and normal human tissues, and are controlled by canonical promoters. Furthermore, vlincRNA promoters frequently originate from within endogenous retroviral sequences. Strikingly, the number of vlincRNAs expressed from endogenous retroviral promoters strongly correlates with pluripotency or the degree of malignant transformation. These results suggest a previously unknown connection between the pluripotent state and cancer via retroviral repeat-driven expression of vlincRNAs. Finally, they show that vlincRNAs can be syntenically conserved in humans and mouse and their depletion using RNAi can cause apoptosis in cancerous cells.
- St Laurent G 3rd, Shtokalo D, Dong B, Tackett MR, Fan X, Lazorthes S, Nicolas E, Sang N, Triche TJ, McCaffrey TA, Xiao W, Kapranov P. (2013) VlincRNAs controlled by retroviral elements are a hallmark of pluripotency and cancer. Genome Biol 14(7), R73. [abstract]