Scientists at the Babraham Institute have gained a new understanding of how the growth of the placenta is regulated before birth, which has important implications for a healthy pregnancy.
The research, published on 10th June 2012 in the journal Nature Cell Biology shows that the controlled release of a specific molecule, called miR-675, slows down growth of the placenta before birth.
RNA molecules are best known as the intermediary between the cell’s DNA and the making of proteins necessary for cell function. However, there are also many RNA molecules with functions other than encoding proteins. Babraham Institute scientists are involved in researching the role of these noncoding RNAs, including microRNAs (a type of short noncoding RNA molecule) which are important for regulating cell development and function.
The noncoding RNA H19 is one of the most abundant RNA molecules found in mammals but until now its function was unknown.This study, in collaboration with academics in France, the USA and Belgium, is the first to show that a microRNA called miR-675 is ‘cut out’ and released from the longer H19 RNA in the placenta and that this limits placental growth.
Dr Andrew Keniry from the Babraham Institute who is lead author explained, “The function of the H19 noncoding RNA has proven elusive for many years. We have shown that it appears to act as an inert molecule used to store the functional miR-675 until it is required by the cell to slow placental growth. This is a very exciting finding and reveals a new purpose for noncoding RNA. It is also intriguing that the release of miR-675 is controlled by a stress-response protein, suggesting this may be a mechanism the developing embryo can use to regulate its growth in the womb.”
Professor Wolf Reik, senior author of the paper and a Group Leader at the Babraham Institute, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) said, “It’s interesting to see how the growth of the placenta can be regulated in this flexible way before birth. Perhaps there are environmental signals and influences from the mother’s diet on the growth of the placenta and hence the healthy baby. It’s also fascinating how an RNA that is so abundant in the cell can be a quick-release reservoir of a growth regulating small RNA, and this may be generally important for how cell growth is regulated by the environment.”
The Babraham Institute undertakes world-leading life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Professor Michael Wakelam, Director of the Babraham Institute, commented, “This research gives a new insight into how placental growth can be regulated, which is important for the health of the baby and in later life, supporting BBSRC’s mission to drive advances in fundamental bioscience for better health and wellbeing.” In addition to the BBSRC, this research was supported by the Wellcome Trust, the MRC, the EU, the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust and the Centre for Trophoblast Research.
Professor Wolf Reik
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The H19 lincRNA is a developmental reservoir of miR-675 which suppresses growth and Igf1r
Andrew Keniry, David Oxley, Paul Monnier, Michael Kyba, Luisa Dandolo, Guillaume Smits and Wolf Reik
Nature Cell Biology
Notes to editors:
Professor Wolf Reik is a Group Leader at the Babraham Institute, an associate faculty member at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and is affiliated with the Centre of Trophoblast Research and the University of Cambridge.
Noncoding RNAs are involved in the epigenetic regulation of gene activity. Epigenetics is a branch of genetics that studies modifications to the DNA which affect gene activity. The Babraham Institute epigenetics research will be presented at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition from 3-8 July 2012 in London. Further information can be found at:
The Babraham Institute
The Babraham Institute, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), undertakes international quality life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. The institute received £22.4M investment from BBSRC in 2010-11. The Institute’s research provides greater understanding of the biological events that underlie the normal functions of cells and the implication of failure or abnormalities in these processes. Research focuses on signalling and genome regulation, particularly the interplay between the two and how epigenetic signals can influence important physiological adaptations during the lifespan of an organism. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and healthier ageing. (www.babraham.ac.uk)
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes
About the Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk
About the Medical Research Council (MRC)
For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk
About EU EpiGeneSys
As an FP7 European Community-funded Network of Excellence, EpiGeneSys's goals go further than simply funding a research project-our extensive training program is helping to build a bridge between the fields of epigenetics and systems biology and our public education mission will communicate the science in an accessible and interesting fashion while awakening young pupils' interest in research. www.epigenesys.eu/index.php/en/homepage
About EU BLUEPRINT
BLUEPRINT is a large-scale research project receiving close to 30 million euro funding from the EU. 41 leading European universities, research institutes and industry entrepreneurs participate in what is one of the two first so-called high impact research initiatives to receive funding from the EU. www.blueprint-epigenome.eu/
About the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust
The Cambridge Commonwealth Trust was founded in 1982 by the University of Cambridge, as a charity to support international students from member countries of the Commonwealth who wish to study at the University of Cambridge. www.cambridgetrusts.org/
About the Centre for Trophoblast Research
The Centre was founded in 2007 to promote scientific study of the placenta and maternal-fetal interactions during pregnancy. The ultimate aim is to alleviate suffering resulting from placentally-related complications of pregnancy that remain a major cause of maternal and infant morbidity and mortality worldwide. www.trophoblast.cam.ac.uk/index.html
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