NAR’s Breakthrough Articles present high-impact studies answering long-standing questions in the field of nucleic acids research and/or opening up new areas and mechanistic hypotheses for investigation. These articles are chosen by the Editors on the recommendation of Editorial Board Members and Referees. Articles are accompanied by a brief synopsis explaining the findings of the paper and where they fit in the broader context of nucleic acids research. They represent the very best papers published at NAR.
The absence of a prebiotically plausible pathway for the efficient nonenzymatic copying of RNAs remains a major obstacle towards constructing self-replicating protocells that emulate early lifeforms. We demonstrate the activation of short oligonucleotides and the subsequent formation of monomer-bridged-oligonucleotide species, leading to efficient nonenzymatic template copying in the same reaction mixture. Our findings suggest that in-situ activated mixtures of mono- and oligo-nucleotides would significantly outperform mononucleotides in driving the copying of arbitrary RNA sequences. Our demonstration that multiple steps in the pathway from activation chemistry to RNA copying can occur together in a single complex environment simplifies this aspect of the origin of life.
Antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) drugs are a type of chemically modified DNA that can be injected into cerebrospinal fluid in order to enter brain cells and reduce the amount of RNA from a specific gene. The brain is a complex mixture of hundreds of billions of cells. When an ASO lowers a target gene’s RNA by 50%, is that a 50% reduction in 100% of cells, or a 100% reduction in 50% of cells? Are the many different cell types of the brain affected equally? This new study uses single cell RNA sequencing to answer these questions, finding that ASOs are broadly active across cell types and individual cells, and linking reduction of target protein in cerebrospinal fluid to disease-relevant cells.
Several types of cancers can divide indefinitely because of their ability to circumvent telomere shortening by mechanisms such as the telomerase-independent, hence Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT) pathway. The ALT pathway is greatly enhanced in the absence of the ATRX chromatin remodeler. The current study provides evidence that increased amounts of trapped proteins on DNA in the absence of ATRX cause replication forks to collapse, which on telomeres induces ALT. These results may help to better understand tumors with active ALT pathway and may eventually be instrumental in developing new therapeutic strategies.