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Genesis. 2015 Jul;53(7):395-416. doi: 10.1002/dvg.22871. Epub 2015 Jul 16.

Movement of regulatory RNA between animal cells.

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Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.


Recent studies suggest that RNA can move from one cell to another and regulate genes through specific base-pairing. Mechanisms that modify or select RNA for secretion from a cell are unclear. Secreted RNA can be stable enough to be detected in the extracellular environment and can enter the cytosol of distant cells to regulate genes. Mechanisms that import RNA into the cytosol of an animal cell can enable uptake of RNA from many sources including other organisms. This role of RNA is akin to that of steroid hormones, which cross cell membranes to regulate genes. The potential diagnostic use of RNA in human extracellular fluids has ignited interest in understanding mechanisms that enable the movement of RNA between animal cells. Genetic model systems will be essential to gain more confidence in proposed mechanisms of RNA transport and to connect an extracellular RNA with a specific biological function. Studies in the worm C. elegans and in other animals have begun to reveal parts of this novel mechanism of cell-to-cell communication. Here, I summarize the current state of this nascent field, highlight the many unknowns, and suggest future directions.


C. elegans; epigenetics; exosomes; hormones; mobile RNA; systemic RNAi

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