Biogenesis, identification, and function of exonic circular RNAs

Wiley Interdiscip Rev RNA. 2015 Sep-Oct;6(5):563-79. doi: 10.1002/wrna.1294. Epub 2015 Jul 31.


Circular RNAs (circRNAs) arise during post-transcriptional processes, in which a single-stranded RNA molecule forms a circle through covalent binding. Previously, circRNA products were often regarded to be splicing intermediates, by-products, or products of aberrant splicing. But recently, rapid advances in high-throughput RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) for global investigation of nonco-linear (NCL) RNAs, which comprised sequence segments that are topologically inconsistent with the reference genome, leads to renewed interest in this type of NCL RNA (i.e., circRNA), especially exonic circRNAs (ecircRNAs). Although the biogenesis and function of ecircRNAs are mostly unknown, some ecircRNAs are abundant, highly expressed, or evolutionarily conserved. Some ecircRNAs have been shown to affect microRNA regulation, and probably play roles in regulating parental gene transcription, cell proliferation, and RNA-binding proteins, indicating their functional potential for development as diagnostic tools. To date, thousands of ecircRNAs have been identified in multiple tissues/cell types from diverse species, through analyses of RNA-seq data. However, the detection of ecircRNA candidates involves several major challenges, including discrimination between ecircRNAs and other types of NCL RNAs (e.g., trans-spliced RNAs and genetic rearrangements); removal of sequencing errors, alignment errors, and in vitro artifacts; and the reconciliation of heterogeneous results arising from the use of different bioinformatics methods or sequencing data generated under different treatments. Such challenges may severely hamper the understanding of ecircRNAs. Herein, we review the biogenesis, identification, properties, and function of ecircRNAs, and discuss some unanswered questions regarding ecircRNAs. We also evaluate the accuracy (in terms of sensitivity and precision) of some well-known circRNA-detecting methods.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Exons*
  • Humans
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • RNA Processing, Post-Transcriptional / physiology*
  • RNA* / genetics
  • RNA* / metabolism


  • RNA