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Gene Expr. 2002;10(1-2):17-39.

Small nucleolar RNAs: versatile trans-acting molecules of ancient evolutionary origin.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Georgia, Athens 30602, USA.


The small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs) are an abundant class of trans-acting RNAs that function in ribosome biogenesis in the eukaryotic nucleolus. Elegant work has revealed that most known snoRNAs guide modification of pre-ribosomal RNA (pre-rRNA) by base pairing near target sites. Other snoRNAs are involved in cleavage of pre-rRNA by mechanisms that have not yet been detailed. Moreover, our appreciation of the cellular roles of the snoRNAs is expanding with new evidence that snoRNAs also target modification of small nuclear RNAs and messenger RNAs. Many snoRNAs are produced by unorthodox modes of biogenesis including salvage from introns of pre-mRNAs. The recent discovery that homologs of snoRNAs as well as associated proteins exist in the domain Archaea indicates that the RNA-guided RNA modification system is of ancient evolutionary origin. In addition, it has become clear that the RNA component of vertebrate telomerase (an enzyme implicated in cancer and cellular senescence) is related to snoRNAs. During its evolution, vertebrate telomerase RNA appears to have co-opted a snoRNA domain that is essential for the function of telomerase RNA in vivo. The unique properties of snoRNAs are now being harnessed for basic research and therapeutic applications.

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