Pierre Cattenoz

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PhD project: Analysis of the expression and structure of Alu transcripts in human brain

Summary: Alu elements are a subclass of primate-specific SINEs (short interspersed nuclear elements, about 300bp in length) spread around the genome by retrotransposition. They represent major sites of exonization and A-I RNA editing, which occurs mainly in brain and is 100 times greater in humans than in mice. This suggests that Alu sequences may have acquired important regulatory functions in the interplay between the environment and the epigenome, especially in brain development and function, and the evolution of higher order cognition, and been subjected to positive selection on this basis. Recent data suggests that a large number of Alu sequences are expressed in human brain and detectable as small RNAs. Moreover, Alu elements have accumulated mutations that make them different from each other. These differences may allow one Alu repeat to have distinct function from others Alu repeats and from an experimentally point of view, provide the means to distinguish between transcripts of different Alu genes. The research project is intended to explore and characterize the expression, structure and function of Alu-derived small RNAs in humans. It has 2 major components: the characterization of Alu transcription in brain and the structural analysis of these transcripts. This project is carried out as a co-tutelle arrangement between Pr. Eric Westhof at the University Louis Pasteur of Strasbourg (France) and Pr. John Mattick.

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