The role of RNA polymerase (Pol) III in eukaryotic transcription is commonly thought of as being restricted to a small set of highly expressed, housekeeping non-protein-coding (nc)RNA genes. Recent studies, however, have remarkably expanded the set of known Pol III-synthesized ncRNAs, suggesting that gene-specific Pol III regulation is more common than previously appreciated. Newly identified Pol III transcripts include small nucleolar RNAs, microRNAs, short interspersed nuclear element-encoded or tRNA-derived RNAs and novel classes of ncRNA that can display significant sequence complementarity to protein-coding genes and might thus regulate their expression. The extent of the Pol III transcriptome, the complexity of its regulation and its influence on cell physiology, development and disease are emerging as new areas for future research.
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