The expanding world of tRNA modifications and their disease relevance

Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2021 Jun;22(6):375-392. doi: 10.1038/s41580-021-00342-0. Epub 2021 Mar 3.


Transfer RNA (tRNA) is an adapter molecule that links a specific codon in mRNA with its corresponding amino acid during protein synthesis. tRNAs are enzymatically modified post-transcriptionally. A wide variety of tRNA modifications are found in the tRNA anticodon, which are crucial for precise codon recognition and reading frame maintenance, thereby ensuring accurate and efficient protein synthesis. In addition, tRNA-body regions are also frequently modified and thus stabilized in the cell. Over the past two decades, 16 novel tRNA modifications were discovered in various organisms, and the chemical space of tRNA modification continues to expand. Recent studies have revealed that tRNA modifications can be dynamically altered in response to levels of cellular metabolites and environmental stresses. Importantly, we now understand that deficiencies in tRNA modification can have pathological consequences, which are termed 'RNA modopathies'. Dysregulation of tRNA modification is involved in mitochondrial diseases, neurological disorders and cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Codon / genetics
  • Humans
  • Protein Biosynthesis / genetics
  • RNA Processing, Post-Transcriptional / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • RNA, Transfer / genetics*


  • Codon
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Transfer