Researchers from the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) have discovered a new way of gene regulation that is deemed important for nervous system activity. This gene regulation involves a chemical alteration on RNA known as m6A which plays a significant role in determining whether flies would be males or females. In this study, the importance of RNA modifications is highlighted.
The study, published in Nature, shows that the m6A RNA modification is important in the development of the fly's nervous system and is also essential for this system to function well. When the researchers disrupted the molecular pathway that changes the RNA, the flies behaved abnormally. These flies had problems in folding their wings correctly and could not orient themselves anymore. They also moved slowly than the flies who did not have alteration in RNA.
The researchers explained that motion impairment results from impairments in the function of the brain. They also found out in this study that m6A is important in determination of sex, whether the fly would become male or female.
The study group leader at IMB and the corresponding author of the study, Dr. Jean-Yves Roignant, also commented that the effect of RNA modifications on messenger RNAs were not anticipated until recently and that their study findings are one of the most exciting discoveries in the field for the last 15 years. This study sheds light on the role of RNA modifications in living organisms and it also shows that m6A modifications is important in the proper functioning of the nervous system and in the sex determination of the fruit fly, Drosophila.
The RNA modification system is found within the vertebrate nervous system and may have similar roles in humans.
RNA modification and gene regulation
For the human body to function normally, genes have to be either switched on or switched off in the right cells at the proper time. It is already a known fact that DNA modification is important in the regulation of gene activity. The DNA molecular markers act as signals to the cells to convert information within genes into a protein and will help us know how a gene is regulated. The signals may be added and removed and will determine whether genes will be active or inactive.
There are many modifications that have been identified in RNA but what they do inside cells is not well known. m6A is said to be the most common of these RNA modifications and it can be added or removed in a similar way as what happens in DNA modifications. To date, this is the first comprehensive study to investigate the role of all components which are involved in m6A RNA modification in organisms.
The researchers also identified a new component that regulates RNA modification: Spenito. They will work in the coming years in how this machinery works in detail.