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Non-coding RNA, splicing regulators and RNA promoters: an insight into the molecular basis of colorectal cancer

Next generation sequencing provides insight into the molecular basis of different diseases. Cancer remains as one of the most investigated diseases so far, due its high incidence and mortality rates. In this study, researchers were able to identify a small protein that dysregulated RNA splicing, leading to a substantial cancer cell growth and proliferation and, thus, worsening a patient’s prognosis.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is still considered a significant cause of death among cancer-related mortality rates [1]. The guidelines promoted by different medical associations keep pushing and promoting effective screening programs, which have increased the early diagnosis of CRC and vastly improved their chances of recovery.

However, the 5-year survival rate amongst late-stage CRC patients remains low, particularly due the lack of effective therapeutic choices[2]. Understanding the molecular basis of the disease will shed some light on potential therapeutic targets, diminishing the odds of death and increasing their life quality.

Research Background

Tumorigenesis is a long and notoriously difficult process to understand. Thankfully, advancement in the next generation sequencing data services have allowed researchers to unravel this herculean task. Many oncogenic genes are simultaneously responsible for altering transcription factors (TF) and their signaling pathways.

The importance of non-coding RNA, such as long-noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs), have increased drastically, as previous studies have demonstrated a possible role in many diseases, such as different types of cancer[3] [4]. Thus, figuring out where lncRNAs are involved in the tumorigenesis of CRC and its interaction with other proteins and their TF will prove useful.

In this study, researchers demonstrated the lncRNA LOC90024 is responsible for encoding a small protein, but with enormous implications. Said protein will then interact with other transcription factors, unleashing the chain of events that culminate in cancer growth.

Research material

Tumor tissue of CRC patients, noncancerous tissue of patients and parental cells lines were used. These samples were subjected to ribosome-bound RNAs purification and RNA sequencing, to identify if the LOC90024 lncRNA could, or not, bind to any ribosome.

Sequencing matching techniques and other techniques, such as immunochemistry assay, were used as well to determine the expression of certain proteins.

Research Results

The findings demonstrated that one of the encoding products of LOC90024 directly participated in the tumorigenesis, cell proliferation, colony formation and more. To reach this conclusion, several ideas were postulated, based on the current study.

1.LncRNA LOC90024 is capable of encoding a small protein

The purification of ribosome-bound RNAs, together with the RNA-seq process, showed that LOC90024 was indeed capable of binding to a ribosome and, thus, it can be translated into a protein/peptide. Further research confirmed that this lncRNA does have an Open Reading Frame (ORF), composed of 392 nucleotides, capable of encoding a 130-amino acid small protein. Said protein was named “Splicing Regulatory Small Protein” (SRSP).

2.Upregulation and expression levels of LOC90024 and SRSP determine the prognosis in CRC patients

Upregulation of this lncRNA was confirmed in numerous cancerous samples, such as highly metastatic colorectal, ovarian, nasopharyngeal and breast cancer cells. Subsequently, researchers matched the CRC tissue samples with nontumor tissue samples. Immunochemistry assays were further used to confirm the findings.

Researchers found that both LOC90024 and SRSP were upregulated in cancerous tissue samples. Not just that, but their expression levels were significantly higher in these types of cells than in their non tumoral matchings.

3. It’s not LOC90024 itself that promotes cancer growth, but the work of SRSP

The previous findings confirm that either the lnc-RNA LOC90024, or its encoding protein, play a certain role in the cancerogenesis of CRC. However, they don’t demonstrate which one is more directly responsible. To help distinguish between the both, LOC90024 knockout (KO) and knockdown (KD) models were employed.

In both, cancer cell growth, proliferation, metastasis and vascular invasion were all inhibited. Afterwards, alterations of these KO models were restored, which led to a reexpression of SRSP and an increase in cancer cell growth and more. However, 5′UTR‐ORFmut‐Flag (MUT) vector construct did not reexpress SRSP and there was no significant change in the cancer cells, compared to the other models.

Moreover, RNA-seq confirmed that SRSP overexpression leads to a much higher transcriptome mutational rate than LOC90024 overexpression itself. Thus, these findings seem to indicate that it’s SRSP that promotes CRC growth.

4. SRSP protein interaction induces cancerogenesis

Mass spectrometry and Gene ontology were used to identify which proteins or peptides SRSP interacts with to unleash its carcinogenic implications. The results suggested this newly discovered protein mainly interacts with RNA splicing processing. Thus, the researchers’ aim became to find out which splicing regulators SRSP interacts with.

Out of all the possible candidates, one particularly stood out. SRSF3 had previously been linked to progression of several human cancers[5] [6]. Interactomics analysis helped determine the protein interactions SRSP has and GO confirmed that the most significant interaction was with SRSF3.

KD SRSF3 models were used to further confirm that this splicing regulator is involved in the signaling pathway of CRC, as cell growth, colony formation, migration and invasion were all inhibited, compared to non-KD models.

5. SRSP helps bind SRSF3 to a transcription factor

SRSP primarily interacts with splicing regulators, specifically an important role in pre-mRNA splicing by interacting with the aforementioned splicing regulator. RNA-seq helped found that SRSF3 promotes the inclusion of exon 3 to the TF Sp4. This transcription factor binds to the GC promoter region of a variety of genes, it has also been previously associated with other diseases, such as bipolar disorder, and other types of cancer[7] [8].

After the exon inclusion, the long Sp4 isoform (L-Sp4) is formed. Essentially, what SRSP does is enhance the binding properties of SRSF3, promoting the splicing process and overexpression of this L-Sp4 and inhibiting the short isoform (S-Sp4).

L-Sp4 was confirmed to have oncogenic effects, as demonstrated by Sp4 KD models, where the long isoform was inhibited, while the S-Sp4 continued to be expressed. These animal models had inferior levels of cell growth, colony formation, cell migration and invasions.


The lnc-RNA LOC90024 is, in itself, not an oncogenic promoter. However, it’s capable of encoding a small protein (SRSP). This protein interacts with splicing regulators, thus, altering and disregulating their splicing capabilities, as it happens with SRSF3. Instead, SRSF3 further binds to certain transcription factors, such as Sp4. This leads to an overexpression of the carcinogenic L-Sp4 isoform.

Novogene services

Novogene’s exceeding and trustworthy capabilities allow to provide professional and comprehensive sequencing technology. Non-coding RNA is gaining attention, as more and more researchers gradually uncover its possible roles in many pathologies, from neurodegenerative disorders to cancer.

Long non-coding RNA sequencing service (lncRNA-seq) is a comprehensive next-generation method to detect the transcripts with a length of over 200nt, which do not encode protein and perform as regulatory elements in multiple biological processes.

However, the progressive library preparation enables information enrichment and gene expression profiling for both coding and non-coding transcripts from a high-sensitive transcriptomic perspective. Bioinformatic analysis does not reveals the quantification and functional enrichment of the target transcripts, but also indicates the strand orientation and regulatory relation of lncRNA targeted mRNA.

RNA-seq, and other NGS technologies, will continue providing the biomedical community more tools to search for potential therapeutic targets.


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