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This Week in PNAS: Jun 26, 2018

In the early, online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team from Canada, China, and the US describes interactions between transfer RNA precursors and a microRNA called miR-34a, a tumor suppressor previously shown to have enhanced expression in response to ionizing radiation. From their interaction assays, RNA sequencing experiments, and other analyses, the researchers found that miR-34a interacts with AGO2 to degrade tRNAi-Met precursors and suppress proliferation in breast cancer cell lines. "Taken together, our findings may serve as an important roadmap for future analyses of interactions of miRNAs and other non-coding RNAs, their roles in regulation of key biological processes, and their contributions to carcinogenesis," they conclude.

Researchers from Italy and the UK describe a role for the zinc finger transcription factor ZNF281 in neuroblastoma differentiation and prognoses. The team turned to assays, small interfering RNA knockdown experiments, and other approaches to follow ZNF281 expression and effects in mouse embryos and human neuroblastoma cell lines, revealing a role for the transcription factor in dialing back neuronal differentiation — a process promoted by MYCN and inhibited by a pathway that includes miR-34a. "[U]sing several experimental approaches, we show that ZNF281 is down-regulated during neuronal differentiation and negatively affects the differentiation process of murine cortical neurons and [neuroblastoma] cells," the authors write, noting that enhanced ZNF281 expression "defines a subset of patients with [neuroblastoma] with poor clinical outcome."

A University of Texas at Austin-led team introduces a sequencing strategy designed to account for small insertions and deletions that might otherwise confuse the interpretation of DNA barcodes in high-throughput pooled sequencing experiments. The investigators argue that current error-correcting barcodes "do not properly account for insertions and deletions in DNA barcodes, even though deletions are the most common type of synthesis error." To address that issue, they came up with an indel-correcting method known as "filled/truncated right end edit," or FREE, barcodes, which were validated and compared to other error-correcting barcode approaches in the current analysis.