Skip to main content

Health Relevance

Once thought to exist only inside cells, RNA is now known to travel outside of cells and play a role in newly discovered mechanisms of cell-to-cell communication. Are these extracelluar RNAs (exRNAs) involved in diseases like cancer, heart disease or neurological diseases like Alzheimer's? Could scientists learn how to use exRNAs to diagnose diseases earlier or even to treat these diseases? The NIH Common Fund's Extracellular RNA Communication program aims to unlock the mysteries of exRNAs, uncovering their roles in human health and disease. Watch the video below to learn more about exRNA.

DNA, the blueprint of life, produces smaller molecules called RNA unique to each kind of cell. RNA translates the genes encoded in DNA into proteins and regulates which proteins are made. Through regulation of genes and proteins RNA controls the function of cells  ̶  often in long-lasting or permanent ways. Until recently, RNA was thought to exert its influence only on the cell that produces it. However, we've now learned that these powerful controllers can travel between cells and tissues and affect cells at distant parts of the body. Extracellular RNAs, or exRNAs travel in body fluids including fluid surrounding the brain, spinal cord, urine, and blood. The extent to which these exRNAs control cell behavior is not well understood. 

To understand this and more, the Common Fund designed a program to explore how exRNAs are made and function and communicate with the body.  ExRNA molecules represent an opportunity to tell us valuable information about what it means to be healthy and may also offer early signals about a developing disease. ExRNA may also be harnessed deliver information to parts of the body treat certain diseases. The goals are to understand exRNAs and unlock the transformative potential that this new area of research holds for human health, disease diagnosis, and treatment. 

•    Make sure to check out the highlights and news sections on the website to see exciting new advancements in exRNA research!

This page last reviewed on January 23, 2024