Reconsidering proteomic diversity with functional investigation of small ORFs and alternative ORFs

Exp Cell Res. 2020 Aug 1;393(1):112057. doi: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2020.112057. Epub 2020 May 6.


The discovery of functional yet non-annotated open reading frames (ORFs) throughout the genome of several species presents an unprecedented challenge in current genome annotation. These novel ORFs are shorter than annotated ones and many can be found on the same RNA, in opposition to current assumptions in annotation methodologies. Whilst the literature lacks consensus, these novel ORFs are commonly referred to as small ORFs (sORFs) or alternative ORFs (alt-ORFs). Unannotated ORFs represent an overlooked layer of complexity in the coding potential of genomes and are transforming our current vision of the nature of coding genes. In this review, we outline what constitutes a sORF or an alt-ORF and emphasize differences between both nomenclatures. We then describe complementary large-scale methods to accurately discover novel ORFs as well as yield functional insights on the novel proteins they encode. While serendipitous discoveries highlighted the functional importance of some novel ORFs, omics methods facilitate and improve their characterization to better understand physiological and pathological pathways. Functional annotation of sORFs, alt-ORFs and their corresponding microproteins will likely help fundamental and clinical research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computational Biology* / methods
  • Genome / genetics*
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Annotation / methods
  • Open Reading Frames / genetics*
  • Proteins / genetics*


  • Proteins

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