Comparative transcriptomics analyses across species, organs and developmental stages reveal functionally constrained lncRNAs
Molecular biology and evolution
The functionality of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) is disputed. In general, lncRNAs are under weak selective pressures, suggesting that the majority of lncRNAs may be non-functional. However, although some surveys showed negligible phenotypic effects upon lncRNA perturbation, key biological roles were demonstrated for individual lncRNAs. Most lncRNAs with proven functions were implicated in gene expression regulation, in pathways related to cellular pluripotency, differentiation and organ
... ogenesis, suggesting that functional lncRNAs may be more abundant in embryonic development, rather than in adult organs. To test this hypothesis, we perform a multi-dimensional comparative transcriptomics analysis, across five developmental time-points (two embryonic stages, newborn, adult and aged individuals), four organs (brain, kidney, liver and testes) and three species (mouse, rat and chicken). We find that, overwhelmingly, lncRNAs are preferentially expressed in adult and aged testes, consistent with the presence of permissive transcription during spermatogenesis. LncRNAs are often differentially expressed among developmental stages and are less abundant in embryos and newborns compared to adult individuals, in agreement with a requirement for tighter expression control and less tolerance for noisy transcription early in development. For differentially expressed lncRNAs, we find that the patterns of expression variation among developmental stages are generally conserved between mouse and rat. Moreover, lncRNAs expressed above noise levels in somatic organs and during development show higher evolutionary conservation, in particular at their promoter regions. Thus, we show that functionally constrained lncRNA loci are enriched in developing organs, and we suggest that many of these loci may function in an RNA-independent manner.