Most genes encode proteins and are transcribed from DNA into RNA before they’re translated into a protein. In complex cells, however, there are lots of added layers of complexity. The RNA typically has chunks cut out of it, has its start and end modified, and more. Collectively, these changes are called RNA processing.
Xinshu Xiao’s lab at UCLA studies RNA processing in all of its many forms. RNA editing is a type of modification that involves the alteration of RNA sequences by swapping in different bases. This has the effect of increasing the number of different protein products that can be generated from a single gene.
RNA editing is known to be important in nervous system development, specifically the formation of connections between nerve cells, called synapses. Synaptic development is abnormal in autism spectrum disorders. So Xiao and her colleagues decided to look at RNA editing in the brains of people with autism. They found that RNA editing was reduced in multiple areas of the brain, and multiple genes were effected.