Fluorescent tracking of RNA in living cells: in vitro selection of fluorescent-dye-binding RNA aptamers

Within cells, RNA molecules perform a number of critical functions. Many of these functions are related to protein synthesis – the manufacture of various substances, including enzymes, hormones, and antibodies, that are necessary for the proper functioning of an organism. RNA molecules regulate gene expression (activation) to control cell reproduction, parent-specific inheritance and cell differentiation. They also interact with certain viruses during the establishment of viral infection. Despite recent advances in studying the dynamic interactions of proteins in living cells, where and when RNA molecules move through the cell to perform these various functions is still poorly understood. Elena Dogosheina is developing a new method to track RNA molecules in living cells as they move in and out of cell compartments. This movement will be visualized with the use of a fluorescent dye that contains microscopic magnetic beads to which RNA molecules will bind. This RNA tracking method could prove useful as a real time reporter for changes in RNA expression over space and time, and can be applied to study RNA splicing disorders and cancers involving differential expression of small RNAs. This method could also be used to study viral pathogenesis by visualizing intracellular organization and intercellular movement of viral nucleic acids in the course of infection.