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Genome Biol. 2017 Aug 30;18(1):162. doi: 10.1186/s13059-017-1293-0.

A subset of conserved mammalian long non-coding RNAs are fossils of ancestral protein-coding genes.

Author information

1
Department of Biological Regulation, Weizmann Institute of Science, 234 Herzl St., Rehovot, 76100, Israel.
2
Department of Biological Regulation, Weizmann Institute of Science, 234 Herzl St., Rehovot, 76100, Israel. igor.ulitsky@weizmann.ac.il.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Only a small portion of human long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) appear to be conserved outside of mammals, but the events underlying the birth of new lncRNAs in mammals remain largely unknown. One potential source is remnants of protein-coding genes that transitioned into lncRNAs.

RESULTS:

We systematically compare lncRNA and protein-coding loci across vertebrates, and estimate that up to 5% of conserved mammalian lncRNAs are derived from lost protein-coding genes. These lncRNAs have specific characteristics, such as broader expression domains, that set them apart from other lncRNAs. Fourteen lncRNAs have sequence similarity with the loci of the contemporary homologs of the lost protein-coding genes. We propose that selection acting on enhancer sequences is mostly responsible for retention of these regions. As an example of an RNA element from a protein-coding ancestor that was retained in the lncRNA, we describe in detail a short translated ORF in the JPX lncRNA that was derived from an upstream ORF in a protein-coding gene and retains some of its functionality.

CONCLUSIONS:

We estimate that ~ 55 annotated conserved human lncRNAs are derived from parts of ancestral protein-coding genes, and loss of coding potential is thus a non-negligible source of new lncRNAs. Some lncRNAs inherited regulatory elements influencing transcription and translation from their protein-coding ancestors and those elements can influence the expression breadth and functionality of these lncRNAs.

KEYWORDS:

Evolution; Long noncoding RNAs; Pseudogenes; Translational regulation; X inactivation; uORFs

PMID:
28854954
PMCID:
PMC5577775
DOI:
10.1186/s13059-017-1293-0
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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