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Annu Rev Biochem. 1998;67:335-94.

RNA localization in development.

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Program in Developmental Biology, Research Institute, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada.


Cytoplasmic RNA localization is an evolutionarily ancient mechanism for producing cellular asymmetries. This review considers RNA localization in the context of animal development. Both mRNAs and non-protein-coding RNAs are localized in Drosophila, Xenopus, ascidian, zebrafish, and echinoderm oocytes and embryos, as well as in a variety of developing and differentiated polarized cells from yeast to mammals. Mechanisms used to transport and anchor RNAs in the cytoplasm include vectorial transport out of the nucleus, directed cytoplasmic transport in association with the cytoskeleton, and local entrapment at particular cytoplasmic sites. The majority of localized RNAs are targeted to particular cytoplasmic regions by cis-acting RNA elements; in mRNAs these are almost always in the 3'-untranslated region (UTR). A variety of trans-acting factors--many of them RNA-binding proteins--function in localization. Developmental functions of RNA localization have been defined in Xenopus, Drosophila, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. In Drosophila, localized RNAs program the antero-posterior and dorso-ventral axes of the oocyte and embryo. In Xenopus, localized RNAs may function in mesoderm induction as well as in dorso-ventral axis specification. Localized RNAs also program asymmetric cell fates during Drosophila neurogenesis and yeast budding.

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