Circular RNAs in cancer: opportunities and challenges in the field

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Circular RNA (circRNA) is a novel member of the noncoding cancer genome with distinct properties and diverse cellular functions, which is being explored at a steadily increasing pace. The list of endogenous circRNAs involved in cancer continues to grow; however, the functional relevance of the vast majority is yet to be discovered. In general, circRNAs are exceptionally stable molecules and some have been shown to function as efficient microRNA sponges with gene-regulatory potential. Many circRNAs are highly conserved and have tissue-specific expression patterns, which often do not correlate well with host gene expression. Here we review the current knowledge on circRNAs in relation to their implications in tumorigenesis as well as their potential as diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers and as possible therapeutic targets in future personalized medicine. Finally, we discuss future directions for circRNA cancer research and current caveats, which must be addressed to facilitate the translation of basic circRNA research into clinical use.

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