We've updated our Privacy Policy to make it clearer how we use your personal data. We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. You can read our Cookie Policy here.


Tiny RNA Targets May Provide New Treatment Options for Chronic Inflammation

A strand of RNA.
Credit: iStock.
Listen with
Register for free to listen to this article
Thank you. Listen to this article using the player above.

Want to listen to this article for FREE?

Complete the form below to unlock access to ALL audio articles.

Read time: 2 minutes

UC Santa Cruz researchers have discovered a peptide in human RNA that regulates inflammation and may provide a new path for treating diseases such as arthritis and lupus. The team used a screening process based on the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR to shed light on one of the biggest mysteries about our RNA–the molecule responsible for carrying out genetic information contained in our DNA.

This peptide originates from within a long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) called LOUP. According to the researchers, the human genome encodes over 20,000 lncRNAs, making it the largest group of genes produced from the genome. But despite this abundance, scientists know little about why lncRNAs exist or what they do. This is why lncRNA is sometimes referred to as the "dark matter of the genome."

Want more breaking news?

Subscribe to Technology Networks’ daily newsletter, delivering breaking science news straight to your inbox every day.

Subscribe for FREE

The study, published May 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is one of the very few in the existing literature to chip away at the mysteries of lncRNA. It also presents a new strategy for conducting high-throughput screening to rapidly identify functional lncRNAs in immune cells. The pooled-screen approach allows researchers to target thousands of genes in a single experiment, which is a much more efficient way to study uncharacterized portions of the genome than traditional experiments which focus on one gene at a time.

The research was led by immunologist Susan Carpenter, a professor and Sinsheimer Chair of UC Santa Cruz's Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology Department. She studies the molecular mechanisms involved in protection against infection. Specifically, she focuses on the processes that lead to inflammation to determine the role that lncRNAs play in these pathways.

"Inflammation is a central feature of just about every disease," she said. "In this study, my lab focused on trying to determine which lncRNA genes are involved in regulating inflammation."

This meant studying lncRNAs in a type of white blood cell known as a monocyte. They used a modification of the CRISPR/Cas9 technology, called CRISPR inhibition (CRISPRi), to repress gene transcription and find out which of a monocyte's lncRNAs play a role in whether it differentiates into a macrophage—another type of white blood cell that's critical to a well-functioning immune response.

In addition, the researchers used CRISPRi to screen macrophage lncRNA for involvement in inflammation. Unexpectedly, they located a region that is multifunctional and can work as an RNA as well as containing an undiscovered peptide that regulates inflammation.

Understanding that this specific peptide regulates inflammation gives drugmakers a target to block the molecular interaction behind that response in order to suppress it, Carpenter said. "In an ideal world, you would design a small molecule to disrupt that specific interaction, instead of, say, targeting a protein that might be expressed throughout the body," she explained. "We're still a long way from targeting these pathways with that level of precision, but that’s definitely the goal. There's a lot of interest in RNA therapeutics right now."

Reference: Halasz H, Malekos E, Covarrubias S, et al. CRISPRi screens identify the lncRNA, LOUP, as a multifunctional locus regulating macrophage differentiation and inflammatory signaling. Pro Nat Acad Sci USA. 2024;121(22):e2322524121. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2322524121

This article has been republished from the following materials. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source. Our press release publishing policy can be accessed here.