RNA secondary structures can strongly contribute to gene regulation, research shows

A team of scientists from Russia studied the role of double-stranded fragments of the maturing RNA and showed that the interaction between distant parts of the RNA can regulate gene expression. The research was published in Natural Communications.

In school, we learn that DNA is double-stranded and RNA is single-stranded, but that’s not entirely true. Scientists have encountered many cases of RNA forming a double-stranded (aka secondary) structure that plays an important role in the functioning of RNA molecules. These structures are involved in the regulation of gene expression, where the double-stranded regions usually have specific functions and, if lost, can cause severe disorders. A double-stranded structure is created from sticky complementary regions. In order for the threads to adhere to each other, U and G must appear opposite A and C respectively. Most of the remaining regions are located close to each other, but the role of those located far away has not been well understood.

Scientists from the Skoltech Center for Life Sciences (CLS) led by Professor Dmitri Pervouchine and their colleagues from Russian and international laboratories used molecular and bioinformatics techniques to analyze the structure and roles of complementary RNA regions spaced far apart but capable of forming secondary structures. It appeared that the secondary structure plays an important role in the maturation of information-carrying RNA molecules and especially in splicing, a process in which non-coding regions are cut out, and the coding regions are sewn together. The team showed that the secondary structures of RNA can regulate splicing and thus strongly contribute to gene regulation.

This paper culminates years of research on the RNA secondary structure and its role in the regulation of gene expression. We have published an extensive computer catalog of potentially important RNA structures, but experimental research in this direction is just beginning. “

Dmitri Pervouchine, professor, Skoltech Center for Life Sciences


Skoltech Center for Life Sciences

Reference journal reference:

Kalmykova, S., et al. (2021) Conserved long-range baseline pairings are related to pre-mRNA processing of human genes. Natural Communications. doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-22549-7.