Scientists image heart RNA structure for the first time
Scientists at Los Alamos and international partners have created the first 3-D images of a special type of RNA molecule that is critical for stem cell programming and known as the "dark matter" of the genome.

"As far as we know," said corresponding author Karissa Sanbonmatsu, "this is the first full 3-D structural study of any long, non-coding RNA (lncRNA) other than a partial structure." Sanbonmatsu is a structural biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "A better understanding of these RNAs could lead to new strategies in regenerative medicine for people with heart conditions due to cardiovascular disease or aging."

The team used a technique called small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) that reveals the 3-D envelope of the RNA molecule, according to Trushar Patel, a Canadian professor on the team. Next, with the help of machine learning and high-performance computing, they made atomistic models to fit inside the envelopes—this included the creation of an atomistic model that is also the longest of an isolated RNA (636 nucleotides) to date, said Doo Nam Kim, lead author on the Nature Communications paper.

"Our work represents the first step in showing that these difficult-to-image RNAs do possess 3-D structures, and that these molecular structures may very well determine how they operate," said Sanbonmatsu. "The RNA studied is called "Braveheart"—it triggers the transformation of stem cells into heart cells," she said.

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