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IMAGE: The authors were able to show exactly how a specific RNA binding protein (blue) recognizes pri-miR-18a (pink) and changes its structure in such a way that it develops into mature… view more 

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Credit: Picture modified from Kooshapur et al.

An international research team led by Helmholtz Zentrum München, Technical University of Munich and the University of Edinburgh has used an integrated structural biological approach to elucidate the maturation of a cancer-causing microRNA in gene regulation. In the future, the authors hope to develop new therapies based on the findings presented in Nature Communications.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of molecules consisting of short RNA sequences that inhibit the formation of certain proteins by destroying the corresponding RNA blueprint.

Cancer-causing miRNAs, so-called oncomiRs, also function according to this principle and inhibit the production of proteins that protect the cell against uncontrolled growth. “Thus, an increased presence of these molecules in cells leads to the development of cancer in the long term,” said Professor Michael Sattler, director of the Institute of Structural Biology at Helmholtz Zentrum München and professor of Biomolecular NMR Spectroscopy at the Technical University of Munich. “However, some molecular mechanisms of miRNA maturation in the cell remain elusive.”

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