Over the past decade, long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) have been identified as significant players in gene regulation. They are often differentially expressed and widely-associated with a majority of cancer types. The aberrant expression of these transcripts has been linked to tumorigenesis, metastasis, cancer stage progression and patient survival. Despite their apparent link to cancer, it has been challenging to gain a mechanistic understanding of how they contribute to cancer, partially due the difficulty in discriminating functional RNAs from other noncoding transcription events. However, there are several well-studied lncRNAs where specific mechanisms have been more clearly defined, leading to new discoveries into how these RNAs function. One major observation that has come to light is the context-dependence of lncRNA mechanisms, where they often have unique function in specific cell types and environment. Here, we review the molecular mechanisms of lncRNAs with a focus on cancer pathways, illustrating a few informative examples. Together, this type of detailed insight will lead to a greater understanding of the potential for the application of lncRNAs as targets of cancer therapies and diagnostics.
Keywords: Cancer; Chromatin; HOTAIR; MEG3; TUG1; lncRNA.