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Mamm Genome. 2008 Aug;19(7-8):454-92. doi: 10.1007/s00335-008-9136-7. Epub 2008 Oct 7.

Noncoding RNA in development.

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Australian Research Council Special Research Centre for Functional and Applied Genomics, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia.


Non-protein-coding sequences increasingly dominate the genomes of multicellular organisms as their complexity increases, in contrast to protein-coding genes, which remain relatively static. Most of the mammalian genome and indeed that of all eukaryotes is expressed in a cell- and tissue-specific manner, and there is mounting evidence that much of this transcription is involved in the regulation of differentiation and development. Different classes of small and large noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) have been shown to regulate almost every level of gene expression, including the activation and repression of homeotic genes and the targeting of chromatin-remodeling complexes. ncRNAs are involved in developmental processes in both simple and complex eukaryotes, and we illustrate this in the latter by focusing on the animal germline, brain, and eye. While most have yet to be systematically studied, the emerging evidence suggests that there is a vast hidden layer of regulatory ncRNAs that constitutes the majority of the genomic programming of multicellular organisms and plays a major role in controlling the epigenetic trajectories that underlie their ontogeny.

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