From structure prediction to genomic screens for novel non-coding RNAs

PLoS Comput Biol. 2011 Aug;7(8):e1002100. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002100. Epub 2011 Aug 4.


Non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) are receiving more and more attention not only as an abundant class of genes, but also as regulatory structural elements (some located in mRNAs). A key feature of RNA function is its structure. Computational methods were developed early for folding and prediction of RNA structure with the aim of assisting in functional analysis. With the discovery of more and more ncRNAs, it has become clear that a large fraction of these are highly structured. Interestingly, a large part of the structure is comprised of regular Watson-Crick and GU wobble base pairs. This and the increased amount of available genomes have made it possible to employ structure-based methods for genomic screens. The field has moved from folding prediction of single sequences to computational screens for ncRNAs in genomic sequence using the RNA structure as the main characteristic feature. Whereas early methods focused on energy-directed folding of single sequences, comparative analysis based on structure preserving changes of base pairs has been efficient in improving accuracy, and today this constitutes a key component in genomic screens. Here, we cover the basic principles of RNA folding and touch upon some of the concepts in current methods that have been applied in genomic screens for de novo RNA structures in searches for novel ncRNA genes and regulatory RNA structure on mRNAs. We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the different strategies and how they can complement each other.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Base Sequence
  • Biotechnology
  • Computational Biology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • RNA Folding
  • RNA, Untranslated / chemistry*
  • RNA, Untranslated / genetics*


  • RNA, Untranslated