Epigenome

How Cells Communicate Though Genetic Signals, And How We Could Harness Them

Posted on 30 November 2020

Cells translate the DNA‘s genetic code into proteins by making RNA molecules – smaller strands of genetic material that serve as protein blueprints for the cell. But RNA can also be released from the cell in which it’s made. This extracellular RNA (exRNA) can influence protein production in other cells, acting as a form of intercellular communication.

There is emerging evidence that exRNA plays an important role in disease: diseased cells release different exRNAs compared with healthy cells, and these exRNAs may cause healthy cells to become diseased. For example, exRNAs released by cancer cells might cause other cells to become cancerous.

Understanding more about this messaging system could open up several exciting possibilities. Scientists are currently trying to develop exRNA-based tests for early diagnosis of diseases like cancer, heart disease and dementia. It may also be possible to treat diseases by either blocking harmful exRNA or introducing new beneficial exRNA. One of the main challenges for this promising area of research is that exRNA is very diverse, which makes it hard to discern the clinically important exRNAs amongst the ‘noise’.


References

NIH UNLOCKING THE MYSTERIES OF EXTRACELLULAR RNA COMMUNICATION: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUG3SjYdgak

Could tracking RNA in body fluids reveal disease?: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01763-1

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