A universal approach to investigate circRNA protein coding function

Sci Rep. 2019 Aug 12;9(1):11684. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-48224-y.


Circular RNAs (circRNAs) are an emerging class of RNA molecules that have been linked to human diseases and important regulatory pathways. Their functional roles are still under investigation, often hampered by inefficient circRNA formation in and ex vivo. We generated an intron-mediated enhancement (IME) system that-in comparison to previously published methods-increases circRNA formation up to 5-fold. This strategy also revealed previously undetected translation of circRNA, e.g., circRtn4. Substantiated by Western blots and mass spectrometry we showed that in mammalian cells, translation of circRtn4 containing a potential "infinite" circular reading frame resulted in "monomers" and extended proteins, presumably "multimer" tandem repeats. In order to achieve high levels of circRNA formation and translation of other natural or recombinant circRNAs, we constructed a versatile circRNA expression vector-pCircRNA-DMo. We demonstrated the general applicability of this method by efficiently generating two additional circRNAs exhibiting high expression levels. The circRNA expression vector will be an important tool to investigate different aspects of circRNA biogenesis and to gain insights into mechanisms of circular RNA translation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Exons
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Introns
  • Mice
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Plasmids / chemistry
  • Plasmids / metabolism
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • RNA, Circular / chemistry
  • RNA, Circular / genetics*
  • RNA, Circular / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Circular
  • RNA, Messenger