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Extracellular RNA Communication

ExRNA communication is a cell-to-cell signaling process that holds enormous promise for improving our understanding of a wide variety of diseases. We participate in the NIH Common Fund's program to investigate this new scientific field.

ExRNA Overview

Scientists are only beginning to understand the potential that extracellular RNA (exRNA) research may hold for improving diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of a wide range of diseases and conditions. But researchers need to know more about basic exRNA biology first.

To advance this new field of research and address a collective scientific need, NIH launched the Extracellular RNA Communication program in July 2012.

Until recently, scientists believed RNA worked mostly inside the cell that produced it. Some types of RNA help translate genes into proteins that are necessary for organisms to function. Other types of RNA control which proteins and how much of those proteins the cells make.

Now, investigators have shown that cells can release RNA — in the form of exRNA — to travel through body fluids and affect other cells. ExRNA can act as a signaling molecule, communicating with other cells and carrying information from cell to cell throughout the body.

A better understanding of basic exRNA biology could open doors to improving the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of diseases and conditions such as cancer, bone marrow disorders, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis.

A Collaborative Effort

NIH launched the cross-cutting Extracellular RNA Communication program to advance the field of exRNA research and address collective scientific needs. The program's goal, which spans the entire spectrum of translational research from discovery to treatment, is to find out:

  • How cells make and release exRNAs
  • How exRNAs move through the body
  • How exRNA targets specific cells and affects other cells
  • How the amount and types of exRNA can change in disease
  • How scientists can use exRNAs to develop new therapies

Funded scientists formed an ExRNA Consortium to collaborate, share information and spread knowledge to the larger scientific community and the public. Specifically, they are exploring the use of some exRNAs as biomarkers, or indicators of the presence, absence or stage of a disease. These biomarkers may help scientists understand and diagnose diseases earlier and more effectively. They also will use exRNAs to develop molecular treatments for conditions including neurological disorders and cancer. 

The NIH Common Fund supports the ExRNA Communication program, which is led by an NIH-wide team including NCATS; the National Cancer Institute; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

ExRNA News

Unlocking the Mysteries of ExRNA Communication

The Extracellular RNA Communication program aims to unlock the mysteries of exRNAs, uncovering their roles in human health and disease.

(video length: 4:15)

ExRNA Communication Funded Research Awards

See the ExRNA Communication funded research awards

Other NIH Common Fund Programs

Somatic Cell Genome Editing

We help lead this NIH Common Fund program that aims to create and make available high-quality tools for safe and effective genome editing in people.

Illuminating the Druggable Genome

We help lead this NIH Common Fund program to study and generate resources on key targets for new therapeutic agents

Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions

We help lead this NIH Common Fund program to explore the role of peripheral nerves in controlling the functioning of internal organs through electrical signals 

Last updated on April 19, 2024