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The H19 locus: Role of an imprinted non-coding RNA in growth and development



The H19 gene produces a non-coding RNA, which is abundantly expressed during embryonic development and down-regulated after birth. Although this gene was discovered over 20 years ago, its function has remained unclear. Only recently a role was identified for the non-coding RNA and/or its microRNA partner, first as a tumour suppressor gene in mice, then as a trans-regulator of a group of co-expressed genes belonging to the imprinted gene network that is likely to control foetal and early postnatal growth in mice. The mechanisms underlying this transcriptional or post-transcriptional regulation remain to be discovered, perhaps by identifying the protein partners of the full-length H19 RNA or the targets of the microRNA. This first in vivo evidence of a functional role for the H19 locus provides new insights into how genomic imprinting helps to control embryonic growth.