Scientists discover gene that controls the birth of neurons

August 28, 2013, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore

Scientists at A*STAR's Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) have discovered an unusual gene that controls the generation of neurons. This important finding, which is crucial in understanding serious diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer's disease, was reported in the 8th August 2013 issue of the prestigious scientific journal, Molecular Cell.

The is composed of numerous cell types that develop into a complex, higher-ordered structure. The birth of neurons (known as neurogenesis) is a process that requires exquisite temporal and spatial control of hundreds of genes. The expression of these genes is controlled by regulatory networks, usually involving proteins, which play critical roles in establishing and maintaining the nervous system. Problems with neurogenesis are the basis of many neurological disorders, and the understanding of the molecular details of neurogenesis is therefore crucial for developing treatments of serious diseases.

Researchers at the GIS, led by Principal Investigator Prof Lawrence Stanton, discovered a key component within a gene which controls the birth of new neurons, called RMST. Surprisingly, this new discovery is not a protein. Rather, RMST is an atypical, long non-coding RNA (lncRNA for short; pronounced as "link RNA"). The new findings demonstrate that the RNA does not produce a protein to handle the regulatory process. Instead, it acts directly as a . LncRNAs are a newly discovered class of RNA whose functions remain mostly unknown.

The of how RMST works within a gene regulatory network not only sheds light on the process of neurogenesis, but also generates new insight into how lncRNA works together with to regulate the important of .

Prof Lawrence Stanton said, "There is now great excitement about the revelation that RNA is more than just a messenger carrying that encodes for proteins. New classes of RNA, called long non-coding RNAs (lncRNA), have been discovered, which are capable of unanticipated functional diversity. However, systematic functional investigations of exactly what, and how, lncRNAs do in our cells remain scant. Our study paves the way for understanding a crucial role played by a lncRNA in human neurons."

Associate Prof Leonard Lipovich, from the Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics at the Wayne State University and a member of GENCODE, said, "In their paper in Molecular Cell, Stanton and colleagues show how RMST, a human lncRNA, directly regulates SOX2, a key transcription factor protein that is instrumental for directing the birth of new neurons. Even more intriguingly, they highlight that RMST controls SOX2 by directly interacting with the protein. The paper is therefore an important advance in the still nascent and controversial field of riboregulators, or RNAs that regulate proteins in our cells. DNA-binding proteins that turn genes on and off were traditionally thought to be distinct from RNA-binding proteins. Stanton et al, however, illuminate the cryptic, yet crucial, RNA-binding roles for DNA-binding transcription factors: lncRNAs just might be the definitive regulatory switch that controls these factors' activity."

GIS Executive Director Prof Huck Hui Ng added, "One cannot overemphasize the importance of , which is responsible for the normal functioning of one of the most important biological systems in the body. Larry Stanton and his team have made an exciting finding, one that could lead to new approaches in the treatment of neural diseases. This latest work has built upon their unique, interdisciplinary expertise, developed over the past 10 years at the GIS, in applying cutting-edge genomics technologies to the study of the human body."

The paper is titled "The Long Noncoding RNA RMST Interacts with SOX2 to Regulate Neurogenesis."

Explore further: 'Dark genome' is involved in Rett Syndrome

More information: The research findings described in the press release was published in the 8th August 2013 issue of Molecular Cell under the title "The Long Noncoding RNA RMST Interacts with SOX2 to Regulate Neurogenesis".

Related Stories

'Dark genome' is involved in Rett Syndrome

May 2, 2013
Researchers at the Epigenetics and Cancer Biology Program at IDIBELL led by Manel Esteller, ICREA researcher and professor of genetics at the University of Barcelona, have described alterations in noncoding long chain RNA ...

Long non-coding RNA molecules necessary to regulate differentiation of embryonic stem cells into cardiac cells

January 25, 2013
When the human genome was sequenced, biologists were surprised to find that very little of the genome—less than 3 percent—corresponds to protein-coding genes. What, they wondered, was all the rest of that DNA doing?

Recommended for you

Peers' genes may help friends stay in school, new study finds

January 18, 2018
While there's scientific evidence to suggest that your genes have something to do with how far you'll go in school, new research by a team from Stanford and elsewhere says the DNA of your classmates also plays a role.

Epigenetics study helps focus search for autism risk factors

January 16, 2018
Scientists have long tried to pin down the causes of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies have expanded the search for genetic links from identifying genes toward epigenetics, the study of factors that control gene expression ...

Group recreates DNA of man who died in 1827 despite having no body to work with

January 16, 2018
An international team of researchers led by a group with deCODE Genetics, a biopharmaceutical company in Iceland, has partly recreated the DNA of a man who died in 1827, despite having no body to take tissue samples from. ...

The surprising role of gene architecture in cell fate decisions

January 16, 2018
Scientists read the code of life—the genome—as a sequence of letters, but now researchers have also started exploring its three-dimensional organisation. In a paper published in Nature Genetics, an interdisciplinary research ...

Study advances gene therapy for glaucoma

January 16, 2018
While testing genes to treat glaucoma by reducing pressure inside the eye, University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists stumbled onto a problem: They had trouble getting efficient gene delivery to the cells that act like drains ...

How incurable mitochondrial diseases strike previously unaffected families

January 15, 2018
Researchers have shown for the first time how children can inherit a severe - potentially fatal - mitochondrial disease from a healthy mother. The study, led by researchers from the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit at the University ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.