Long Non-coding RNAs Can Encode Proteins After All
Case Western Reserve Investigators Discover Novel Cellular Genes by
Uncovering Uncharacterized RNAs that Encode Proteins
News Release: June 23, 2014
Case Western Reserve School of Medicine scientists have made an
extraordinary double discovery. First, they have identified
thousands of novel long non-coding ribonucleic acid (lncRNA)
transcripts. Second, they have learned that some of them defy
conventional wisdom regarding lncRNA transcripts, because they
actually do direct the synthesis of proteins in cells.
Both of the breakthroughs are detailed in the June 12 issue of
Kristian E. Baker, PhD, assistant professor in the Center for RNA
Molecular Biology, led the team that applied high throughput gene
expression analysis to yield these impressive findings, which
ultimately could lead to treatments for cancer and some genetic
“Our work establishes that lncRNAs in yeast can encode proteins,
and we provide evidence that this is probably true also in mammals,
including humans,” Baker said. “Our investigation has expanded our
knowledge of the genetic coding potential of already well-
Collaborating with researchers including Case Western Reserve
University graduate and undergraduate students, Baker analyzed
yeast and mouse cells, which serve as model organisms because of
their functional resemblance to human cells.
Previously, lncRNAs were thought to lack the information and
capacity to encode for proteins, distinguishing them from the
messenger RNAs that are expressed from known genes and act
primarily as templates for the synthesis of proteins. Yet this team
demonstrated that a subset of these lncRNAs is engaged by the
translation machinery and can function to produce protein products.
In the future, Baker and fellow investigators will continue to
look for novel RNA transcripts and also search for a function for
these lncRNAs and their protein products in cells.
“Discovery of more transcripts equates to the discovery of new and
novel genes,” Baker said. “The significance of this work is that we
have discovered evidence for the expression of previously
undiscovered genes. Knowing that genes are expressed is the very
first step in figuring out what they do in normal cellular function
or in dysfunction and disease.”
This investigation was funded by the National Institutes of
Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (GM080465
and GM095621) and the National Science Foundation (NSF1253788).