Small RNA Molecule Could make a Big Impact

September 23, 2015

Professor Irene Pedersen, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and her laboratory have published a new paper in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology. The team of researchers have identified a small RNA molecule (miRNA) which regulates genomic stability and plasticity in cells. This finding has potential clinical relevance for cancer progression and stem cell therapies.

Our cells encode selfish elements know as retrotransposons (LINE-1, L1). L1 increases genomic diversity, but also cause mutations and increased risk of cancer development. Cancer cells, cancer stem cells and stem cells (iPS cells) are particularly vulnerable to L1 activity, because their DNA structure is not protected by DNA promoter methylation.

Professor Pedersen’s lab set-out to investigate how these cells inhibit L1 activity and identified a small RNA molecule (miRNA), which bind and degrade L1 RNA species, in these cell types. The Pedersen lab’s work describes a new principle in RNA biology in which a small RNA inhibits dangerous RNA molecules encoded by our genome, in a similar fashion as miRNAs function in anti-viral defense, where they bind and degrade viral RNA (as shown in 2007, Pedersen et al, Nature).

The full paper can be read online here.