Chemical RNA modifications are present in all kingdoms of life and many of these post-transcriptional modifications are conserved throughout evolution. However, most of the research has been performed on single cell organisms, whereas little is known about how RNA modifications contribute to the development of metazoans. In recent years, the identification of RNA modification genes in genome wide association studies (GWAS) has sparked new interest in previously neglected genes. In this review, we summarize recent findings that connect RNA modification defects and phenotypes in higher eukaryotes. Furthermore, we discuss the implications of aberrant tRNA modification in various human diseases including metabolic defects, mitochondrial dysfunctions, neurological disorders, and cancer. As the molecular mechanisms of these diseases are being elucidated, we will gain first insights into the functions of RNA modifications in higher eukaryotes and finally understand their roles during development.
Keywords: RNA modification; cancer; mRNA; metabolism; methylation; mitochondria; neuropathy; rRNA; tRNA; translation.