Engineering circular RNA for enhanced protein production

Nat Biotechnol. 2022 Jul 18. doi: 10.1038/s41587-022-01393-0. Online ahead of print.


Circular RNAs (circRNAs) are stable and prevalent RNAs in eukaryotic cells that arise from back-splicing. Synthetic circRNAs and some endogenous circRNAs can encode proteins, raising the promise of circRNA as a platform for gene expression. In this study, we developed a systematic approach for rapid assembly and testing of features that affect protein production from synthetic circRNAs. To maximize circRNA translation, we optimized five elements: vector topology, 5' and 3' untranslated regions, internal ribosome entry sites and synthetic aptamers recruiting translation initiation machinery. Together, these design principles improve circRNA protein yields by several hundred-fold, provide increased translation over messenger RNA in vitro, provide more durable translation in vivo and are generalizable across multiple transgenes.