Non-coding RNAs, epigenetics and complexity

Gene. 2008 Feb 29;410(1):9-17. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2007.12.008. Epub 2008 Jan 15.


Several aspects of epigenetics are strongly linked to non-coding RNAs, especially small RNAs that can direct the cytosine methylation and histone modifications that are implicated in gene expression regulation in complex organisms. A fundamental characteristic of epigenetics is that the same genome can show alternative phenotypes, which are based in different epigenetic states. Some of the most studied complex epigenetic phenomena including transposon activity and silencing recently exemplified by piRNAs (piwi-interacting RNAs), position effect variegation, X-chromosome inactivation, parental imprinting, and paramutation have direct or indirect participation of an RNA component. Conceivably, most of the non-coding RNAs with no described function yet, are players in epigenetic mechanisms that are still not completely understood. In that regard, RNAs were recently implicated in new mechanisms of genetic information transfer in yeast, plants and mice. In this review article, the hypothesis that non-coding RNAs might be the main component of complex organisms acquired during evolution will be explored. The question of how evolutionary theories have been challenged by these molecules in association with epigenetic mechanisms will also be discussed here.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Humans
  • RNA, Untranslated / genetics*
  • X Chromosome Inactivation


  • RNA, Untranslated