Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) have gained widespread attention in recent years as a potentially new and crucial layer of biological regulation. lncRNAs of all kinds have been implicated in a range of developmental processes and diseases, but knowledge of the mechanisms by which they act is still surprisingly limited, and claims that almost the entirety of the mammalian genome is transcribed into functional noncoding transcripts remain controversial. At the same time, a small number of well-studied lncRNAs have given us important clues about the biology of these molecules, and a few key functional and mechanistic themes have begun to emerge, although the robustness of these models and classification schemes remains to be seen. Here, we review the current state of knowledge of the lncRNA field, discussing what is known about the genomic contexts, biological functions, and mechanisms of action of lncRNAs. We also reflect on how the recent interest in lncRNAs is deeply rooted in biology’s longstanding concern with the evolution and function of genomes.
- Received November 1, 2012.
- Accepted December 3, 2012.
- Copyright © 2013 by the Genetics Society of America