The regulated intracellular trafficking and localized translation of mRNA molecules represents an important and prevalent mechanism of gene regulation. This process plays a key role in modulating asymmetric protein distribution linked to a wide variety of biological processes in different organisms and cell types. In this review, we begin by discussing the diverse biological functions, advantages, and mechanisms of mRNA localization that have been characterized to date. We then review recent technological innovations in RNA imaging and functional genomics methods that will undoubtedly provide powerful new strategies for the elucidation of mRNA trafficking pathways. Finally, we discuss several examples linking human disease pathogenesis to defects in transcript localization, which further underlines the critical importance of this gene regulatory mechanism.
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