Comprehensive analysis of the mammalian transcriptome has revealed that long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) may make up a large fraction of cellular transcripts. Recent years have seen a surge of studies aimed at functionally characterizing the role of lncRNAs in development and disease. In this review, we discuss new findings implicating lncRNAs in controlling development of the central nervous system (CNS). The evolution of the higher vertebrate brain has been accompanied by an increase in the levels and complexities of lncRNAs expressed within the developing nervous system. Although a limited number of CNS-expressed lncRNAs are now known to modulate the activity of proteins important for neuronal differentiation, the function of the vast majority of neuronal-expressed lncRNAs is still unknown. Topics of intense current interest include the mechanism by which CNS-expressed lncRNAs might function in epigenetic and transcriptional regulation during neuronal development, and how gain and loss of function of individual lncRNAs contribute to neurological diseases.
Keywords: cell fate; embryonic stem cells; epigenetics; long noncoding RNA; molecular scaffold; neural stem cells; neurogenesis; transcription factors.