Background: The advent of next generation sequencing (NGS) has allowed the discovery of short and long non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) in an unbiased manner using reverse genetics approaches, enabling the discovery of multiple categories of ncRNAs and characterization of the way their expression is regulated. We previously showed that the identities and abundances of microRNA isoforms (isomiRs) and transfer RNA-derived fragments (tRFs) are tightly regulated, and that they depend on a person's sex and population origin, as well as on tissue type, tissue state, and disease type. Here, we characterize the regulation and distribution of fragments derived from ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs). rRNAs form a group that includes four (5S, 5.8S, 18S, 28S) rRNAs encoded by the human nuclear genome and two (12S, 16S) by the mitochondrial genome. rRNAs constitute the most abundant RNA type in eukaryotic cells.
Results: We analyzed rRNA-derived fragments (rRFs) across 434 transcriptomic datasets obtained from lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) derived from healthy participants of the 1000 Genomes Project. The 434 datasets represent five human populations and both sexes. We examined each of the six rRNAs and their respective rRFs, and did so separately for each population and sex. Our analysis shows that all six rRNAs produce rRFs with unique identities, normalized abundances, and lengths. The rRFs arise from the 5'-end (5'-rRFs), the interior (i-rRFs), and the 3'-end (3'-rRFs) or straddle the 5' or 3' terminus of the parental rRNA (x-rRFs). Notably, a large number of rRFs are produced in a population-specific or sex-specific manner. Preliminary evidence suggests that rRF production is also tissue-dependent. Of note, we find that rRF production is not affected by the identity of the processing laboratory or the library preparation kit.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that rRFs are produced in a regimented manner by currently unknown processes that are influenced by both ubiquitous as well as population-specific and sex-specific factors. The properties of rRFs mirror the previously reported properties of isomiRs and tRFs and have implications for the study of homeostasis and disease.
Keywords: 1000 Genomes Project; Ribosomal RNA; isomiRs; miRNA; microRNA; rRFs; rRNA; rRNA-derived fragments; tRFs; tRNA-derived fragments; transfer RNA.
Conflict of interest statement
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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