Insights into the biogenesis and potential functions of exonic circular RNA

Chikako Ragan, Gregory J. Goodall, Nikolay E. Shirokikh*, Thomas Preiss

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    101 Citations (Scopus)


    Circular RNAs (circRNAs) exhibit unique properties due to their covalently closed nature. Models of circRNAs synthesis and function are emerging but much remains undefined about this surprisingly prevalent class of RNA. Here, we identified exonic circRNAs from human and mouse RNA-sequencing datasets, documenting multiple new examples. Addressing function, we found that many circRNAs co-sediment with ribosomes, indicative of their translation potential. By contrast, circRNAs with potential to act as microRNA sponges were scarce, with some support for a collective sponge function by groups of circRNAs. Addressing circRNA biogenesis, we delineated several features commonly associated with circRNA occurrence. CircRNA-producing genes tend to be longer and to contain more exons than average. Back-splice acceptor exons are strongly enriched at ordinal position 2 within genes, and circRNAs typically have a short exon span with two exons being the most prevalent. The flanking introns either side of circRNA loci are exceptionally long. Of note also, single-exon circRNAs derive from unusually long exons while multi-exon circRNAs are mostly generated from exons of regular length. These findings independently validate and extend similar observations made in a number of prior studies. Furthermore, we analysed high-resolution RNA polymerase II occupancy data from two separate human cell lines to reveal distinctive transcription dynamics at circRNA-producing genes. Specifically, RNA polymerase II traverses the introns of these genes at above average speed concomitant with an accentuated slow-down at exons. Collectively, these features indicate how a perturbed balance between transcription and linear splicing creates important preconditions for circRNA production. We speculate that these preconditions need to be in place so that looping interactions between flanking introns can promote back-splicing to raise circRNA production to appreciable levels.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number2048
    JournalScientific Reports
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


    Dive into the research topics of 'Insights into the biogenesis and potential functions of exonic circular RNA'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this