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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Feb 15;102(7):2454-9. Epub 2005 Jan 21.

Fast and reliable prediction of noncoding RNAs.

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  • 1Department of Theoretical Chemistry and Structural Biology, University of Vienna, Währingerstrasse 17, A-1090 Wien, Austria.


We report an efficient method for detecting functional RNAs. The approach, which combines comparative sequence analysis and structure prediction, already has yielded excellent results for a small number of aligned sequences and is suitable for large-scale genomic screens. It consists of two basic components: (i) a measure for RNA secondary structure conservation based on computing a consensus secondary structure, and (ii) a measure for thermodynamic stability, which, in the spirit of a z score, is normalized with respect to both sequence length and base composition but can be calculated without sampling from shuffled sequences. Functional RNA secondary structures can be identified in multiple sequence alignments with high sensitivity and high specificity. We demonstrate that this approach is not only much more accurate than previous methods but also significantly faster. The method is implemented in the program rnaz, which can be downloaded from www.tbi.univie.ac.at/~wash/RNAz. We screened all alignments of length n > or = 50 in the Comparative Regulatory Genomics database, which compiles conserved noncoding elements in upstream regions of orthologous genes from human, mouse, rat, Fugu, and zebrafish. We recovered all of the known noncoding RNAs and cis-acting elements with high significance and found compelling evidence for many other conserved RNA secondary structures not described so far to our knowledge.

Comment in

  • Tracking down noncoding RNAs. [Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005]
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