Novel classes of non-coding RNAs and cancer
For the many years, the central dogma of molecular biology has been that RNA functions mainly as an informational intermediate between a DNA sequence and its encoded protein. But one of the great surprises of modern biology was the discovery that protein-coding genes represent less than 2% of the total genome sequence, and subsequently the fact that at least 90% of the human genome is actively transcribed. Thus, the human transcriptome was found to be more complex than a collection of protein-coding genes and their splice variants. Although initially argued to be spurious transcriptional noise or accumulated evolutionary debris arising from the early assembly of genes and/or the insertion of mobile genetic elements, recent evidence suggests that the non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) may play major biological roles in cellular development, physiology and pathologies. NcRNAs could be grouped into two major classes based on the transcript size; small ncRNAs and long ncRNAs. Each of these classes can be further divided, whereas novel subclasses are still being discovered and characterized. Although, in the last years, small ncRNAs called microRNAs were studied most frequently with more than ten thousand hits at PubMed database, recently, evidence has begun to accumulate describing the molecular mechanisms by which a wide range of novel RNA species function, providing insight into their functional roles in cellular biology and in human disease. In this review, we summarize newly discovered classes of ncRNAs, and highlight their functioning in cancer biology and potential usage as biomarkers or therapeutic targets.