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Hammer on THOR

A long non-coding RNA dubbed THOR might have a key role in cancer development and could be a potential drug target, according to a new study from University of Michigan researchers.

Michigan's Arul Chinnaiyan and his colleagues sifted through a compendium of lncRNAs they recently developed using large-scale RNA sequencing. Through this, they uncovered 82 highly conserved lncRNAs, including THOR, as they report in Cell this week.

"Genes that are evolutionarily conserved are likely important for biological processes," Chinnaiyan says in a statement. "The fact that we found THOR to be a highly conserved lncRNA was exciting. We chose to focus on it with the thought that it has been selected by evolution for having important functions."

THOR, he and his colleagues report, is expressed in the testis, but also in cancers like melanoma and lung cancer. THOR interacts with IGF2BP1, which is involved in stabilizing mRNAs. When they knocked the expression of THOR down in cancer cell lines, tumor growth slowed, and when they ramped its expression up, they grew faster. Knocking THOR down affected IGF2BP1 activity.

In normal cells, when they removed THOR, the cells continued to grow normally. This suggested to Chinnaiyan and his colleagues that THOR could be a viable drug target as it might have fewer side effects.