A team of researchers from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center has published their latest results in Nature Genetics, whereby they reveal an extensive genetic analysis of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), a part of the genome that until now had remained unexplored.
Over the years, it has been suggested lncRNAs play an important role in cancer biology, and decoding them could help reveal important information concerning potential targets involved in cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“We know about protein-coding genes, but that represents only 1-2 percent of the genome. Much less is known about the biology of the non-coding genome in terms of how it might function in a human disease like cancer,” senior study author Arul M. Chinnaiyan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology and S.P. Hicks Professor of Pathology at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a news release.
The research team analyzed 25 different datasets (including data from the Cancer Genome Atlas project and the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology’s archives) resulting in a total of 7,256 RNA sequencing samples. They then performed high-throughput RNA sequencing, identifying over 58,000 lncRNA genes in healthy tissues and several tumor samples, including prostate cancer.
“We used all of this data to decipher what the genomic landscape looks like in different tissues as well as in cancer,” Dr. Chinnaiyan added. “This opens up a Pandora’s box of all kinds of lncRNAs to investigate for biomarker potential.”
Importantly, the team found one particular lncRNA, SChLAP1, as a possible biomarker for aggressive prostate cancer, since it was specifically overexpressed in metastatic forms of the disease.
This opens the possibility of using SChLAP1 as a marker in a non-invasive prostate cancer test that could reveal tumor stage and allow better therapeutic decisions for patients in an early phase of the malignancy.
These data resulted in the MiTranscriptome compendium, which has been made available for public consultation.
“Some long non-coding RNAs tend to be exquisitely specific for cancer, while protein-coding genes are often not. That’s what makes lncRNAs a very promising target for developing biomarkers,” Dr. Chinnaiyan explained. “We hope that researchers will investigate the MiTransciptome compendium and begin to nominate lncRNAs for further study and development. It’s likely that only a subset of these have true function but as a previously untapped area, it holds great promise.”