Understanding RNA modifications: the promises and technological bottlenecks of the 'epitranscriptome'

Open Biol. 2017 May;7(5):170077. doi: 10.1098/rsob.170077.


The discovery of mechanisms that alter genetic information via RNA editing or introducing covalent RNA modifications points towards a complexity in gene expression that challenges long-standing concepts. Understanding the biology of RNA modifications represents one of the next frontiers in molecular biology. To this date, over 130 different RNA modifications have been identified, and improved mass spectrometry approaches are still adding to this list. However, only recently has it been possible to map selected RNA modifications at single-nucleotide resolution, which has created a number of exciting hypotheses about the biological function of RNA modifications, culminating in the proposition of the 'epitranscriptome'. Here, we review some of the technological advances in this rapidly developing field, identify the conceptual challenges and discuss approaches that are needed to rigorously test the biological function of specific RNA modifications.

Keywords: RNA; chemical modification; epigenetics; transcriptome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Epigenomics / methods*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods
  • Humans
  • Molecular Biology / methods
  • Molecular Biology / trends
  • RNA / genetics*
  • RNA / metabolism
  • RNA Editing*


  • RNA