by David Coppedge

An intron vital to the production of nerve cells has been discovered, reported ScienceDaily.1 It acts as a “gatekeeper” to guide the messenger RNA for local control of gene expression in dendrites, the spindly arms of neurons. The discovery was made by a research team at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.  According to the article,

The group surmises that the intron may control how many mRNAs are brought to the dendrite and translated into functional channel proteins. The correct number of channels is just as important for electrical impulses as having a properly formed channel.

Introns had long been assumed to be junk that the spliceosome cuts out of a transcribed messenger RNA. The team found that knocking out the intron in this case, however, produced abnormal electrical properties in the nerve cells. “This is the first evidence that an intron-containing RNA outside of the nucleus serves a critical cellular function,” said James Eberwine, senior author.

Eberwine also added this comment: “Just because the intron is not in the final channel protein doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an important purpose.” In fact, the article says, they may have hit on a general mechanism for the regulation of RNAs….

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