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Nat Biotechnol. 2005 Nov;23(11):1383-90.

Mapping of conserved RNA secondary structures predicts thousands of functional noncoding RNAs in the human genome.

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Institute for Theoretical Chemistry, University of Vienna, Währingerstrasse 17, 1090 Vienna, Austria.


In contrast to the fairly reliable and complete annotation of the protein coding genes in the human genome, comparable information is lacking for noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs). We present a comparative screen of vertebrate genomes for structural noncoding RNAs, which evaluates conserved genomic DNA sequences for signatures of structural conservation of base-pairing patterns and exceptional thermodynamic stability. We predict more than 30,000 structured RNA elements in the human genome, almost 1,000 of which are conserved across all vertebrates. Roughly a third are found in introns of known genes, a sixth are potential regulatory elements in untranslated regions of protein-coding mRNAs and about half are located far away from any known gene. Only a small fraction of these sequences has been described previously. A comparison with recent tiling array data shows that more than 40% of the predicted structured RNAs overlap with experimentally detected sites of transcription. The widespread conservation of secondary structure points to a large number of functional ncRNAs and cis-acting mRNA structures in the human genome.

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