Comparison of total and cytoplasmic mRNA reveals global regulation by nuclear retention and miRNAs

BMC Genomics. 2012 Oct 30:13:574. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-13-574.


Background: The majority of published gene-expression studies have used RNA isolated from whole cells, overlooking the potential impact of including nuclear transcriptome in the analyses. In this study, mRNA fractions from the cytoplasm and from whole cells (total RNA) were prepared from three human cell lines and sequenced using massive parallel sequencing.

Results: For all three cell lines, of about 15000 detected genes approximately 400 to 1400 genes were detected in different amounts in the cytoplasmic and total RNA fractions. Transcripts detected at higher levels in the total RNA fraction had longer coding sequences and higher number of miRNA target sites. Transcripts detected at higher levels in the cytoplasmic fraction were shorter or contained shorter untranslated regions. Nuclear retention of transcripts and mRNA degradation via miRNA pathway might contribute to this differential detection of genes. The consequence of the differential detection was further investigated by comparison to proteomics data. Interestingly, the expression profiles of cytoplasmic and total RNA correlated equally well with protein abundance levels indicating regulation at a higher level.

Conclusions: We conclude that expression levels derived from the total RNA fraction be regarded as an appropriate estimate of the amount of mRNAs present in a given cell population, independent of the coding sequence length or UTRs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics*
  • Cytoplasm / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Messenger