Background: The retina is a complex tissue comprised of multiple cell types that is affected by a diverse set of diseases that are important causes of vision loss. Characterizing the transcripts, both annotated and novel, that are expressed in a given tissue has become vital for understanding the mechanisms underlying the pathology of disease.
Results: We sequenced RNA prepared from three normal human retinas and characterized the retinal transcriptome at an unprecedented level due to the increased depth of sampling provided by the RNA-seq approach. We used a non-redundant reference transcriptome from all of the empirically-determined human reference tracks to identify annotated and novel sequences expressed in the retina. We detected 79,915 novel alternative splicing events, including 29,887 novel exons, 21,757 3' and 5' alternate splice sites, and 28,271 exon skipping events. We also identified 116 potential novel genes. These data represent a significant addition to the annotated human transcriptome. For example, the novel exons detected increase the number of identified exons by 3%. Using a high-throughput RNA capture approach to validate 14,696 of these novel transcriptome features we found that 99% of the putative novel events can be reproducibly detected. Further, 15-36% of the novel splicing events maintain an open reading frame, suggesting they produce novel protein products.
Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first application of RNA capture to perform large-scale validation of novel transcriptome features. In total, these analyses provide extensive detail about a previously uncharacterized level of transcript diversity in the human retina.