The use of genetics in therapies and diagnostics has boomed over the decades. While many of these breakthroughs focus on how they can be used for cancer, cardiovascular disease is also benefitting.
RNA is a form of genetic information that comes from DNA. The past few decades have revealed a whole gamut of regulatory RNA types, from snoRNA, ncRNA, miRNA, and circRNA. These RNAs interact with either the DNA or other RNA to regulate the expression of genes in an organism. Analyzing these RNAs and how they change in diseases is thought to be a good source of new diagnostic tools and maybe even therapeutic targets in the future.
CircRNA is unique amongst regulatory RNAs as it forms a circular structure rather than a linear one. They are one of the newer types discovered, and therefore the full scope of their activities is not yet known. Many studies point to circRNA acting as a sort of “sponge” for other RNAs to bind to. These RNA types are now being investigated for any connection to a variety of diseases, from cancer to cardiovascular.
In a new study out of Jiangsu Taizhou People’s Hospital in China, a team of scientists investigated how a set of circRNA they identified is related to atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of abnormal heartbeat issues, and it increases a patient’s odds of heart failure. If the team could identify any relationship between these RNAs and atrial fibrillation, it could lead to a new therapeutic target or prognostic tool against cardiovascular disease.
The team began by conducting a screen of differentially expressed circRNAs in atrial fibrillation patients versus healthy patients. The screen identified 65 upregulated circRNAs and 55 downregulated circRNAs. The team then went to HMDD, a program for identifying miRNAs, to identify any atrial fibrillation regulatory RNAs that would bind to the circRNAs from the screen. Sixteen of the circRNAs (5 upregulated and 11 downregulated) were found to bind atrial fibrillation-related miRNAs and, therefore, could be targets for further research.
The identification of circRNAs that interact with atrial fibrillation related regulatory RNAs makes circRNAs a great target for diagnostic and prognostic research. The study points to a few promising miRNA candidates (see the paper’s discussion) that impact atrial fibrillation on several levels. While this study was primarily a screen for circRNA targets, future RNA research could be the basis of a new era of cardiovascular diagnostics.
The study concludes, “The differentially expressed circRNAs had a possible regulatory network with miRNAs, which indicated the possible regulatory network between circRNAs and miRNAs in the pathogenesis of AF.”