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BMC Genomics. 2011 Nov 30;12 Suppl 3:S18. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-12-S3-S18. Epub 2011 Nov 30.

Identification of nucleotide patterns enriched in secreted RNAs as putative cis-acting elements targeting them to exosome nano-vesicles.

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Department of Genome and Gene Expression Data Analysis, Bioinformatics Institute, 30 Biopolis str #07-01, Singapore, 138671.



Exosomes are nanoscale membrane vesicles released by most cells. They are postulated to be involved in cell-cell communication and genetic reprogramming of their target cells. In addition to proteins and lipids, they release RNA molecules many of which are not present in the donor cells implying a highly selective mode of their packaging into these vesicles. Sequence motifs targeting RNA to the vesicles are currently unknown.


Ab initio approach was applied for computational identification of potential RNA secretory motifs in the primary sequences of exosome-enriched RNAs (eRNAs). Exhaustive motif analysis for the first time revealed unique sequence features of eRNAs. We discovered multiple linear motifs specifically enriched in secreted RNAs. Their potential function as cis-acting elements targeting RNAs to exosomes is proposed. The motifs co-localized in the same transcripts suggesting combinatorial organization of these secretory signals. We investigated associations of the discovered motifs with other RNA parameters. Secreted RNAs were found to have almost twice shorter half-life times on average, in comparison with cytoplasmic RNAs, and the occurrence of some eRNA-specific motifs significantly correlated with this eRNA feature. Also, we found that eRNAs are highly enriched in long noncoding RNAs.


Secreted RNAs share specific sequence motifs that may potentially function as cis-acting elements targeting RNAs to exosomes. Discovery of these motifs will be useful for our understanding the roles of eRNAs in cell-cell communication and genetic reprogramming of the target cells. It will also facilitate nano-scale vesicle engineering and selective targeting of RNAs of interest to these vesicles for gene therapy purposes.

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