Non-coding RNAs: the architects of eukaryotic complexity

EMBO Rep. 2001 Nov;2(11):986-91. doi: 10.1093/embo-reports/kve230.


Around 98% of all transcriptional output in humans is non-coding RNA. RNA-mediated gene regulation is widespread in higher eukaryotes and complex genetic phenomena like RNA interference, co-suppression, transgene silencing, imprinting, methylation, and possibly position-effect variegation and transvection, all involve intersecting pathways based on or connected to RNA signaling. I suggest that the central dogma is incomplete, and that intronic and other non-coding RNAs have evolved to comprise a second tier of gene expression in eukaryotes, which enables the integration and networking of complex suites of gene activity. Although proteins are the fundamental effectors of cellular function, the basis of eukaryotic complexity and phenotypic variation may lie primarily in a control architecture composed of a highly parallel system of trans-acting RNAs that relay state information required for the coordination and modulation of gene expression, via chromatin remodeling, RNA-DNA, RNA-RNA and RNA-protein interactions. This system has interesting and perhaps informative analogies with small world networks and dataflow computing.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Gene Expression
  • Genome*
  • Humans
  • Introns
  • Phenotype
  • RNA / genetics*
  • RNA / metabolism
  • RNA / physiology*
  • Transcription, Genetic*
  • Transcriptional Activation


  • Chromatin
  • RNA