They found that antisense RNA appears to regulate core timing genes in the circadaian clock that drives the 24-hour light-dark cycle of Neurospora, a model organism better known as bread mold.
The results are reported in the February 27 Nature by Drs. Jennifer Loros and Jay C. Dunlap, both DMS professors, and Susan K. Crosthwaite, formerly a postdoctoral fellow at DMS, and Cas Kramer, both of the University of Manchester, England.
Messenger RNA, which has a single-stranded sequence of nucleotides, is called "sense" because it can be decoded to produce a gene product (a protein). Like DNA, this mRNA can form duplexes with a second strand of RNA whose base sequence is complementary to the first strand. The second strand is called the antisense strand because its nucleotide sequence is the complement of "sense" message. When mRNA forms a duplex with a complementary antisense RNA sequence, the message translation is turned off so the sense strand can no longer be decoded to yield a protein product.
As scientists identify more antisense RNAs, they are beginning to realize these might affect a wide variety of processes. The recent findings, write the authors, "provide an unexpected link between antisense RNA and circadian timing."
Studying the development of spores in the bread mold Neurospora, Dunlap and Loros have teased apart the molecular gears that form the basis of most living clocks. Light and dark cycles reset the clocks, they found, the way turning the hands of a clock does. The clock mechanism, a biological oscillator, keeps time through the delicately balanced interplay of the Neurospora clock genes and proteins in a complex of feedback loops.