Specific DNA once dismissed as junk plays an important role in brain development and might be involved in several devastating neurological diseases, UC San Francisco scientists have found.
Brain development is guided by junk DNA that isn’t really junk
Their discovery in mice is likely to further fuel a recent scramble by researchers to identify roles for long-neglected bits of DNA within the genomes of mice and humans alike.
While researchers have been busy exploring the roles of proteins encoded by the genes identified in various genome projects, most DNA is not in genes. This so-called junk DNA has largely been pushed aside and neglected in the wake of genomic gene discoveries, the UCSF scientists said.
In their own research, the UCSF team studies molecules called long noncoding RNA (lncRNA, often pronounced as "link" RNA), which are made from DNA templates in the same way as RNA from genes.
"The function of these mysterious RNA molecules in the brain is only beginning to be discovered," said Daniel Lim
, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurological surgery, a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF, and the senior author of the study, published online April 11 in the journal Cell Stem Cell
Alexander Ramos, a student enrolled in the MD/PhD program at UCSF and first author of the study, conducted extensive computational analysis to establish guilt by association, linking lncRNAs within cells to the activation of genes.