Like a bicycle messenger carrying blueprints across town, ribonucleic acid, or RNA, typically ferries protein-building instructions across a cell. Scientists exploring how brain cells form have found evidence that RNA does a lot more, however.
They've discovered a new kind of RNA that can transform unspecialized rodent brain cells into full-fledged neurons. By binding to a single protein, the RNA turns on dozens of neuron-specific genes, researchers report in the March 19 Cell.
"It's interesting that a single, small RNA can act as a switch on a protein that regulates a variety of genes," says study coauthor Fred H. Gage of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif.