Long non-coding RNAs: spatial amplifiers that control nuclear structure and gene expression

Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2016 Dec;17(12):756-770. doi: 10.1038/nrm.2016.126. Epub 2016 Oct 26.


Over the past decade, it has become clear that mammalian genomes encode thousands of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), many of which are now implicated in diverse biological processes. Recent work studying the molecular mechanisms of several key examples - including Xist, which orchestrates X chromosome inactivation - has provided new insights into how lncRNAs can control cellular functions by acting in the nucleus. Here we discuss emerging mechanistic insights into how lncRNAs can regulate gene expression by coordinating regulatory proteins, localizing to target loci and shaping three-dimensional (3D) nuclear organization. We explore these principles to highlight biological challenges in gene regulation, in which lncRNAs are well-suited to perform roles that cannot be carried out by DNA elements or protein regulators alone, such as acting as spatial amplifiers of regulatory signals in the nucleus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Cell Nucleus / ultrastructure*
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • RNA Transport
  • RNA, Long Noncoding / physiology*


  • RNA, Long Noncoding