Human biology depends on the way the human genome is expressed. Protein levels in cells rely on the fate of messenger RNA-how pre-mRNAs are spliced, how and when mRNAs are translated, and finally when mRNAs are degraded. Defects in these steps can lead to diseases ranging from inherited disorders to cancer. By their nature as RNA polymers, pre-mRNAs and mRNAs may contain secondary and tertiary structural elements that serve as regulators of mRNA abundance and protein synthesis. Despite the central importance of mRNA regulation in biology, there has not been a systems-level study of how pre-mRNA and mRNA structure controls mRNA fate in living cells. The Center for RNA Systems Biology will use new methods to establish a fundamental basis for understanding and predicting the control of mRNA fate due to RNA structure embedded in pre-mRNA and mRNA sequences. The Center will combine new in vivo chemical probing methods with control of the physical environment of cells to address the following Specific Aims: 1) Determine the roles of RNA structure in pre-mRNAs in controlling alternative splicing and their Relationship to human genetic variation. 2) Define mRNA structures that control translation initiation and protein synthesis in response to a cell's physical environment. 3) Map RNA structural regulation of miRNA-mediated turnover. Ultimately the goal of the Center is to develop maps of relationships between the placement of RNA structure in pre-mRNA or mRNA sequences and mRNA fate. These maps will provide many new insights into human biology and the mechanisms underlying genotypic variation and human disease.
The Center's focus on the role of RNA structure in regulating how genes are expressed in humans will transform our understanding of human disease. Furthermore, the study of how human cells respond to their physical environment, as they would in tissues, will open new fields for understanding the basis for gene regulation. These studies will open up many new targets for potential therapeutic intervention.
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