The RNA Continent

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Abstract

Recent progress in the analyses of the mouse transcriptome leads to unexpected discoveries. The mouse genomic sequences read by RNA polymerase II may be six times more than previously expected for human chromosomes. The transcript-abundant regions (named “transcription forests”) occupy more than half of the genomic sequence and are divided by transcript-scarce regions (transcription deserts). Many of the coding mRNAs may have partially overlapping antisense RNAs. There are transcripts bridging several adjacent genes that were previously regarded as distinct ones. The transcription start sites appearing as cap analysis of gene expression (CAGE) tags are mapped on the mouse genomic sequences. Distributions of CAGE tags show that the shapes of mammalian gene promoters can be classified into four major categories. These shapes were conserved between mouse and human. Most of the gene has exonic transcription start sites, especially in the 3′ untranslated region (3′ UTR) sequences. The term “RNA continent” has been invented to express this unexpectedly complex and prodigious mouse transcriptome. More than a half of the RNA polymerase II transcripts are regarded as noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs). The great variety of ncRNAs in mammalian transcriptome implies that there are many functional ncRNAs in the cells. Especially, the evolutionarily conserved microRNAs play critical roles in mammalian development and other biological functions. Moreover, many other ncRNAs have also been shown to have biological significant functions, mainly in the regulation of gene expression. The functional survey of the RNA continent has just started. We will describe the state of the art of the RNA continent and its impact on the modern molecular biology, especially on the cancer research.

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