NCI RNA Biology 2017 symposium recap
Joan A. Steitz, Ph.D.
The recent discovery of new classes of RNAs and the demonstration that alterations in RNA metabolism underlie numerous human cancers have resulted in enormous interest among CCR investigators in RNA Biology. In order to share the latest research in this exciting field, the CCR Initiative in RNA Biology held its second international symposium April 23-24, 2017, in Natcher Auditorium. With over 850 registrants, hundreds of extramural and intramural scientists shared their latest research in fields including RNA processing, RNA structure, non-coding RNAs and RNA therapy.
The meeting started with an introduction from the CCR Director, Tom Misteli, Ph.D., and followed with a keynote presentation from Joan Steitz, Ph.D., from Yale University. She reminded the audience of the vast array of RNAs that do not encode proteins but perform other important functions inside cells. She focused on some newly identified long non-coding RNA transcripts that her laboratory has named DoGs because they are Downstream of protein-encoding Genes. These transcripts can be very long, are usually associated with chromatin and can be induced by osmotic stress and other stimuli. Future work will investigate the various functions these transcripts serve in responding to cellular stress.
The second keynote presentation was from Nobel laureate Thomas Cech, Ph.D., from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Many long non-coding RNAs have been recently shown to interact with a histone-modifying enzyme, PRC2, that is essential for proper gene regulation in development and cancer. He detailed how PRC2 can achieve promiscuous binding to many RNAs. He also described how they are using a modified CRISPR system to visualize telomerase activity inside cells.
Many presentations described the use of new sequencing methods to discover novel RNA molecules and achieve a deeper understanding of RNA processing. Sandra Wolin, M.D., Ph.D., announced the new RNA Biology Laboratory in Frederick and described how specific cellular RNAs are incorporated into retroviral particles. In the final session, Sohail Tavazoie, Ph.D., shared how fragments of tRNAs are increased in abundance in metastatic breast cancer. Matt Disney, Ph.D., and Bruce Sullenger, Ph.D., described targeting specific RNAs with specific small molecules and using evolution of RNAs to allow toxic molecules to be specifically delivered to cancer cells.
Many questions will be answered in the future about the functions and mechanisms of these newly described RNAs and how this information can be harnessed to disrupt RNAs involved in diseases including cancer.