A peptide encoded by a transcript annotated as long noncoding RNA enhances SERCA activity in muscle

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Science  15 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6270, pp. 271-275
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad4076

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Another micropeptide flexes its muscle

Genome annotation is a complex but imperfect art. Attesting to its limitations is the growing evidence that certain transcripts annotated as long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) in fact code for small peptides with biologically important functions. One such lncRNA-derived micropeptide in mammals is myoregulin, which reduces muscle performance by inhibiting the activity of a key calcium pump. Nelson et al. describe the opposite activity in a second lncRNA-derived micropeptide in mammalian muscle, called DWORF (see the Perspective by Payre and Desplan). This peptide enhances muscle performance by activating the same calcium pump. DWORF may prove to be useful in improving the cardiac muscle function of mammals with heart disease.

Science, this issue p. 271; see also p. 226


Muscle contraction depends on release of Ca2+ from the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) and reuptake by the Ca2+adenosine triphosphatase SERCA. We discovered a putative muscle-specific long noncoding RNA that encodes a peptide of 34 amino acids and that we named dwarf open reading frame (DWORF). DWORF localizes to the SR membrane, where it enhances SERCA activity by displacing the SERCA inhibitors, phospholamban, sarcolipin, and myoregulin. In mice, overexpression of DWORF in cardiomyocytes increases peak Ca2+ transient amplitude and SR Ca2+ load while reducing the time constant of cytosolic Ca2+ decay during each cycle of contraction-relaxation. Conversely, slow skeletal muscle lacking DWORF exhibits delayed Ca2+ clearance and relaxation and reduced SERCA activity. DWORF is the only endogenous peptide known to activate the SERCA pump by physical interaction and provides a means for enhancing muscle contractility.

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