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Small non-coding RNAs in human cancer: function, clinical utility, and characterization


Small non-coding RNAs (sncRNAs) play critical roles in multiple regulatory processes, including transcription, post-transcription, and translation. Emerging evidence reveals the critical roles of sncRNAs in cancer development and their potential role as biomarkers and/or therapeutic targets. In this paper, we review recent research on four sncRNA species with functional significance in cancer: small nucleolar RNAs, transfer RNA, small nuclear RNAs, and piwi-interacting RNAs. We introduce their functional roles in tumorigenesis and discuss the potential utility of sncRNAs as prognostic and diagnostic biomarkers and therapeutic targets. We further summarize approaches to characterize sncRNAs in a high-throughput manner, including the specific library construction and computational framework. Our review provides a perspective of the functions, clinical utility, and characterization of sncRNAs in cancer.

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Fig. 1: Overview of functional roles, clinical utility, and characterization of the landscape of sncRNAs.
Fig. 2: Small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs).
Fig. 3: Transfer RNAs (tRNAs).
Fig. 4: Small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs).
Fig. 5: Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs).


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We regret that the space limitations have prevented us from including all the relevant literature. This work was supported by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT; RR150085 and RP190570) to the CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research (LH). This work was also supported by UTHealth Innovation for the Cancer Prevention Research Training Program Postdoctoral Fellowship (Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas grant # RP160015). We thank LeeAnn Chastain for editorial assistance.

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Correspondence to Zhao Zhang or Lixia Diao or Leng Han.

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Zhang, Z., Zhang, J., Diao, L. et al. Small non-coding RNAs in human cancer: function, clinical utility, and characterization. Oncogene 40, 1570–1577 (2021).

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