The biomolecule ribonucleic acid (RNA) is pivotal to cell function. RNA plays various roles in determining how the information in our genes drives cell behavior. One of its roles is to carry information encoded by our genes from the cell nucleus to the rest of the cell where it can be acted on by other cell components. Thanks to a program supported by the National Institutes of Health, researchers have now defined how RNA also participates in transmitting information outside cells, known as extracellular RNA or exRNA. This new role of RNA in cell-to-cell communication has led to new discoveries of potential disease biomarkers and therapeutic targets.
The NIH Common Fund-supported Extracellular RNA Communication program launched in 2013 to jump-start progress in this new area of biomedical research. Scientists from the Extracellular RNA Communication Consortium (ERCC) published their findings in more than 480 articles, including a landmark collection of papers (link is external) released today on the biology and possible clinical applications of exRNA in the Cell family of journals.
“Cells using RNA to talk to each other is a significant shift in how we think about RNA biology,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “The field was ripe for NIH investment to boost early discoveries and create resources the whole research community could use to explore this new role for RNA.”