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Pharmacol Ther. 2018 Jul;187:31-44. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2018.01.010. Epub 2018 Feb 14.

Circular RNA and its mechanisms in disease: From the bench to the clinic.

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Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Southeast University, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China.
Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, Southeast University, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China.
Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Southeast University, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China; Institute of Life Sciences, Key Laboratory of Developmental Genes and Human Disease, Southeast University, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China. Electronic address:


The emerging recognition of the functional roles of circular RNAs (circRNAs) has given rise to a new perspective regarding our understanding of cellular physiology and disease pathogenesis. Unlike linear RNAs, circRNAs are covalently closed continuous loops that act as gene regulators in mammals, and their sequence composition determines the mode of circRNA biogenesis. The availability and integrated use of advanced genome analysis platforms have allowed the identification of a large number of these molecules. Their high abundance, stability and evolutionary conservation among species endow circRNAs with numerous potential functions, such as acting as microRNA (miRNA) sponges or binding to RNA-associated proteins to form RNA-protein complexes that regulate gene transcription. Moreover, circRNAs have been shown to be expressed in a tissue-specific manner and in pathological conditions, which has stimulated significant interest in their role in human disease and cancer. In this concise review, we outline the characteristics, functions and mechanisms of action of circRNAs as well as their involvement in different diseases. Although their exact roles and mechanisms of gene regulation remain to be clarified, circRNAs have potential applications as disease biomarkers and novel therapeutic targets.


Biogenesis; Biomarker; Disease; Function; Therapeutic target; circRNAs

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