Background: Long-non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), RNA molecules longer than 200 nucleotides, have been involved in several biological processes and in a growing number of diseases, controlling gene transcription, pre-mRNA processing, the transport of mature mRNAs to specific cellular compartments, the regulation of mRNA stability, protein translation and turnover. The fundamental role of lncRNAs in central nervous system (CNS) is becoming increasingly evident. LncRNAs are abundantly expressed in mammalian CNS in a specific spatio-temporal manner allowing a quick response to environmental/molecular changes.
Methods: This article reviews the biology and mechanisms of action of lncRNAs underlying their potential role in CNS and in some neurodegenerative diseases.
Results: an increasing number of studies report on lncRNAs involvement in different molecular mechanisms of gene expression modulation in CNS, from neural stem cell differentiation mainly by chromatin remodeling, to control of neuronal activities. More recently, lncRNAs have been implicated in neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s Disease, where the role of BACE1-AS lncRNA has been widely defined. BACE1-AS levels are up-regulated in AD brains where BACE1-AS acts by stabilizing BACE1 mRNA thereby increasing BACE1 protein content and Aβ42 formation. In Frontotemporal dementia and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis the lncRNAs NEAT1_2 and MALAT1 co-localize at nuclear paraspeckles with TDP-43 and FUS proteins and their binding to TDP-43 is markedly increased in affected brains. In Parkinson’s Disease the lncRNA UCHL1-AS1 acts by directly promoting translation of UCHL1 protein leading to perturbation of the ubiquitin-proteasome system. Different lncRNAs, such as HTT-AS, BDNF-AS and HAR1, were found to be dysregulated in their expression also in Huntington’s Disease. In Fragile X syndrome (FXS) and Fragile X tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS) patients, the presence of CGG repeats expansion alters the expression of the lncRNAs FMR1-AS1 and FMR6. Interestingly, they are expressed in peripheral blood leukocytes, suggesting these lncRNAs may represent biomarkers for FXS/FXTAS early detection and therapy. Finally, the identification of the antisense RNAs SCAANT1-AS and ATXN8OS in spinocerebellar ataxia 7 and 8, respectively, suggests that very different mechanisms of action driven by lncRNAs may trigger neurodegeneration in these disorders.
Conclusion: The emerging role of lncRNAs in neurodegenerative diseases suggests that their dysregulation could trigger neuronal death via still unexplored RNA-based regulatory mechanisms which deserve further investigation. The evaluation of their diagnostic significance and therapeutic potential could also address the setting up of novel treatments in diseases where no cure is available to date.