History, Discovery, and Classification of lncRNAs

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2017;1008:1-46. doi: 10.1007/978-981-10-5203-3_1.


The RNA World Hypothesis suggests that prebiotic life revolved around RNA instead of DNA and proteins. Although modern cells have changed significantly in 4 billion years, RNA has maintained its central role in cell biology. Since the discovery of DNA at the end of the nineteenth century, RNA has been extensively studied. Many discoveries such as housekeeping RNAs (rRNA, tRNA, etc.) supported the messenger RNA model that is the pillar of the central dogma of molecular biology, which was first devised in the late 1950s. Thirty years later, the first regulatory non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) were initially identified in bacteria and then in most eukaryotic organisms. A few long ncRNAs (lncRNAs) such as H19 and Xist were characterized in the pre-genomic era but remained exceptions until the early 2000s. Indeed, when the sequence of the human genome was published in 2001, studies showed that only about 1.2% encodes proteins, the rest being deemed "non-coding." It was later shown that the genome is pervasively transcribed into many ncRNAs, but their functionality remained controversial. Since then, regulatory lncRNAs have been characterized in many species and were shown to be involved in processes such as development and pathologies, revealing a new layer of regulation in eukaryotic cells. This newly found focus on lncRNAs, together with the advent of high-throughput sequencing, was accompanied by the rapid discovery of many novel transcripts which were further characterized and classified according to specific transcript traits.In this review, we will discuss the many discoveries that led to the study of lncRNAs, from Friedrich Miescher's "nuclein" in 1869 to the elucidation of the human genome and transcriptome in the early 2000s. We will then focus on the biological relevance during lncRNA evolution and describe their basic features as genes and transcripts. Finally, we will present a non-exhaustive catalogue of lncRNA classes, thus illustrating the vast complexity of eukaryotic transcriptomes.

Keywords: Central dogma; Classification; Non-coding RNA; RNA World.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genome, Human*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • RNA, Long Noncoding* / classification
  • RNA, Long Noncoding* / genetics
  • RNA, Long Noncoding* / history
  • RNA, Long Noncoding* / metabolism
  • Transcriptome*


  • RNA, Long Noncoding