Premature RNA is an unprocessed RNA molecule that is "copied" from a
DNA template in the cell nucleus. Premature RNA undergoes extensive
modification via the aid of RNA binding proteins to produce the mature
RNA genetic message.
Depending on how the modification is conducted, the
same premature RNA can be processed differently to create variants of
the final RNA product. The compositions of all mature RNA within a cell
collectively determine the cell identity.
‘RNA binding protein - PTBP1 and PTBP2 - serve both redundant and unique functions in the developing brain when neural stem cells are changed into neurons.’
It remains unclear to scientists why almost every RNA binding
protein has a sibling - or "paralog." While such sibling proteins have
the same origins and are similar to each other in a number of ways, they
are presumed to fulfill different functions in the cell.
"PTBP1 is expressed in neural stem cells, and PTBP2 in differentiating neurons," said Sika Zheng, an assistant professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine
at the University of California, Riverside, who led the research
project. "Their expressions are almost mutually exclusive. During
brain development, cells switch expression of PTBP1 to PTBP2. This
contributes to the neuronal differentiating process, and can offer us
insights into understanding what makes a neuron a neuron."
The research, done using multiple mouse models, has implications for
fine-tuning stem cell therapeutic strategies for neurologic disorders
such as stroke, ALS, and Parkinson's disease.
Zheng explained that in humans it normally takes months to differentiate a stem cell into a neuron.
"Understanding at the molecular level how these proteins work and how
neurons acquire their building blocks can help us speed up the
differentiation process and make it more efficient," he said.
He explained that PTBP1 and PTBP2 could be visualized as siblings
who are both born musicians, except that PTBP1 is a master of classical
music, while PTBP2 masters contemporary music.
"One can imagine that both like music and sometimes perform a piece
in the same way," Zheng said. "But at other times they interpret and
play the music differently, for example, with different styles and
instruments, giving the same score different meanings and emotions. In
this analogy, the musical scores are primitive genetic messages or
premature RNA in a cell."
"Using the same analogy, the performance is the final product or
mature RNA," Zheng continued. "Neural stem cells and neurons have
somewhat different collections of RNA thanks to the activity of PTBP1