Though RNA-binding proteins are crucial regulators of gene expression, to date very few had been functionally characterized. Knowing just what these RNA motifs do, researchers say, could provide key insights as to the roles they play in human health and disease.

The University of Toronto’s Timothy Hughes, Ph.D., and his colleagues this week present a compendium of these RNA sequences, and their functions. “These data provide an unprecedented overview of RNA-binding proteins and their targets, and constitute an invaluable resource for determining post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms in eukaryotes,” the researchers write in a Nature report published July 10.

“It took us a long time to generate and analyze the data,” Dr. Hughes said in a statement. “After spending years developing and perfecting a method, we started looking at all the proteins in humans, fruit flies and other complex organisms that look like they may bind RNA and found which sequences they like to bind to. Our compendium of RNA-binding sequences will become a resource for researchers in this field, and will be especially useful in human genetic analysis.”

Among the team’s findings is that humans and fruit flies have similar RNA-binding proteins, which in many cases bind the same sequences. ““We looked at just over 200 proteins in total, but can probably infer the preference for tens of thousands of proteins in many other organisms,” Dr. Hughes explained.

Overall, he added, “this new knowledge will be valuable to other program members working on specific disorders.”

“A compendium of RNA-binding motifs for decoding gene regulation” appeared online in Nature July 10.

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