Transfer RNA-derived Fragments and tRNA Halves: Biogenesis, Biological Functions and Their Roles in Diseases

J Mol Med (Berl). 2018 Nov;96(11):1167-1176. doi: 10.1007/s00109-018-1693-y. Epub 2018 Sep 19.


The number of studies on non-coding RNAs has increased substantially in recent years owing to their importance in gene regulation. However, the biological functions of small RNAs from abundant species of housekeeping non-coding RNAs (rRNA, tRNA, etc.) remain a highly studied topic. tRNA-derived small RNAs (tsRNAs) refer to the specific cleavage of tRNAs by specific nucleases [e.g., Dicer and angiogenin (ANG)] in particular cells or tissues or under certain conditions such as stress and hypoxia. tsRNAs are a type of non-coding small RNA that are widely found in the prokaryotic and eukaryotic transcriptomes and are generated from mature tRNAs or precursor tRNAs at different sites. There are two main types of tsRNAs, tRNA-derived fragments (tRFs) and tRNA halves. tRFs are 14-30 nucleotides (nt) long and mainly consist of three subclasses: tRF-5, tRF-3, and tRF-1. tRNA halves, which are 31-40 nt long, are generated by specific cleavage in the anticodon loops of mature tRNAs. There are two types of tRNA halves, 5'-tRNA halves and 3'-tRNA halves. tsRNAs have multiple biological functions including acting as signaling molecules in stress responses and as regulators of gene expression. Additionally, they have been considered to be involved in RNA processing, cell proliferation, translation suppression, the modulation of DNA damage response, and neurodegeneration. More importantly, they are closely related to the occurrence of many human diseases such as tumors, infectious diseases, metabolic diseases, and neurological diseases. Moreover, tsRNAs have the potential to become new biomarkers for disease diagnosis. Continuous investigations will help us to understand their generation and regulatory mechanisms as well as the possible roles of tRFs and tRNA halves.

Keywords: Biogenesis; Biological functions; Diseases; tRNA halves; tRNA-derived fragments.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Diseases / genetics
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Nervous System Diseases / genetics
  • RNA, Transfer*
  • Stress, Physiological / genetics


  • RNA, Transfer