The role of non-coding RNAs in neuronal function and disease

🕒 Approximate reading time: 5 minutes

Over recent years, there's been a growing appreciation for the vast stretches of our DNA that don't directly code for proteins. Among these are non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), which play pivotal roles in cellular functions and, as we're coming to discover, in the health and disease of our neuronal systems.

Understanding Non-Coding RNAs

Unlike their protein-coding counterparts, ncRNAs don't serve as templates for protein synthesis. Instead, they have diverse functions, from regulating gene expression to organising chromatin structure. They can be categorised based on their size:

  • Small ncRNAs: Includes microRNAs (miRNAs) and small interfering RNAs (siRNAs).
  • Long ncRNAs (lncRNAs): Longer sequences with a broad array of cellular functions.

Non-Coding RNAs in Neuronal Function

Gene Regulation: ncRNAs, especially miRNAs, modulate gene expression, crucial for neuronal differentiation, synaptic plasticity, and memory formation.

Neural Development: lncRNAs are involved in various developmental processes, including neurogenesis and neural differentiation.

Synaptic Function: Specific ncRNAs play roles in synapse formation and function, essential for effective neurotransmission.

Implication in Neuronal Diseases

Alzheimer’s Disease: Dysregulation of certain ncRNAs has been linked with altered amyloid precursor protein processing and tau phosphorylation.

Parkinson's Disease: Changes in ncRNA profiles have been identified in Parkinson's patients, suggesting a role in disease progression.

Schizophrenia and Autism: ncRNA imbalances have been observed in patients, hinting at their role in disease pathology.

Therapeutic Potential of Non-Coding RNAs

Disease Markers: Changes in ncRNA levels can serve as early markers for certain neuronal diseases.

Targeted Therapies: Custom-designed ncRNAs might be used to modulate gene expression in disease states, offering a new approach to treatment.


The realm of non-coding RNAs is vast and largely uncharted. As we explore this landscape, the intricate roles that these molecules play in neuronal health and disease are emerging. Recognising their significance not only reshapes our understanding of neurobiology but also holds promise for new therapeutic avenues.