Mitochondrial tRNA-lookalikes in nuclear chromosomes: could they be functional?

RNA Biol. 2015;12(4):375-80. doi: 10.1080/15476286.2015.1017239.


The presence in human nuclear chromosomes of multiple sequences that are highly similar to human mitochondrial tRNAs (tRNA-lookalikes) raises intriguing questions about the possible functionality of these genomic loci. In this perspective, we explore the significance of the mitochondrial tRNA-lookalikes based on a series of properties that argue for their non-accidental nature. We particularly focus on the possibility of transcription as well as on potential functional roles for these sequences that can range from their acting as DNA regulatory elements to forming functional mature tRNAs or tRNA-derived fragments. Extension of our analysis to other simians (chimp, gorilla, rhesus, and squirrel monkey), 2 rodents (mouse and rat), a marsupial (opossum) and 3 invertebrates (fruit-fly, worm, and sponge) revealed that mitochondrial tRNA-lookalikes are prevalent in primates and the opossum but absent from the other analyzed organisms.

Keywords: mitochondrion; tRF; tRNA; tRNA fragment; tRNA-half; tRNA-lookalike.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics*
  • Chromosomes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Invertebrates / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Primates / metabolism
  • RNA, Transfer / genetics*
  • RNA, Transfer / metabolism
  • Regulatory Sequences, Nucleic Acid
  • Rodentia / metabolism


  • RNA, Transfer