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WATCH: Research project to find out how junkRNAs affect brain disorders

Illustrative image from video

For a long time, microRNAs were thought to have no important function. But Johan Jakobsson at Lund University is convinced that it is key DNA that can affect different brain diseases such as Parkinson's, Huntington's, Alzheimer's disease or psychiatric illnesses.

Research to date has talked mostly about genes but Johan Jakobsson and his research team are putting the spotlight on microRNAs. MicroRNAs used to be called "junkRNAs" with no real function, even seen as an evolutionary leftover. However, the group is convinced that these are key to better understand some of our most prominent brain disease. A better understanding will help scientists develop new treatment strategies, and maybe even medicines. Learn more, watch video from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research:

Johan Jakobsson on his research project:

The long-term goal of my research is to understand how memories are formed and stored and use this knowledge to develop new drugs to treat cognitive disorders. In the proposed project I will investigate how microRNAs control learning and memory. MicroRNAs are small molecules produced from a particular set of genes that do not produce a protein but rather control cellular function as an RNA molecule. During the last 2-3 years a number of research teams have demonstrated that these molecules play an important role in the brain and that microRNAs may be one of the underlying mechanisms causing brain disorders. Cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), are characterised by a decline in cognitive functions including learning and memory, and cause a great deal of suffering for the patient and relatives. With an aging population these disorders are rapidly becoming a major issue in modern society. Currently there are no effective treatments for cognitive disorders. The fact that the cause of AD remains unknown is the major reason for lack of efficient treatment. If we could understand cellular processes that are dysfunctional in diseased nerve cells then better treatments could be developed. Understanding how microRNAs contribute to learning and memory will add an additional dimension to the network controlling cognitive functions. Eventually, these studies may lead to new therapies for AD.

The research project is supported by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research.