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Mapping of conserved RNA secondary structures predicts thousands of functional noncoding RNAs in the human genome

Nature Biotechnologyvolume 23pages13831390 (2005) | Download Citation



In contrast to the fairly reliable and complete annotation of the protein coding genes in the human genome, comparable information is lacking for noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs). We present a comparative screen of vertebrate genomes for structural noncoding RNAs, which evaluates conserved genomic DNA sequences for signatures of structural conservation of base-pairing patterns and exceptional thermodynamic stability. We predict more than 30,000 structured RNA elements in the human genome, almost 1,000 of which are conserved across all vertebrates. Roughly a third are found in introns of known genes, a sixth are potential regulatory elements in untranslated regions of protein-coding mRNAs and about half are located far away from any known gene. Only a small fraction of these sequences has been described previously. A comparison with recent tiling array data shows that more than 40% of the predicted structured RNAs overlap with experimentally detected sites of transcription. The widespread conservation of secondary structure points to a large number of functional ncRNAs and cis-acting mRNA structures in the human genome.

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This work was supported in part by the Austrian Fonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung, Project No. P15893, by the German DFG Bioinformatics Initiative BIZ-6/1-2, and by the Austrian Gen-AU bioinformatics integration network sponsored by bm:bwk.

Author information


  1. Institute for Theoretical Chemistry, University of Vienna, Währingerstrasse 17, Vienna, 1090, Austria

    • Stefan Washietl
    •  & Ivo L Hofacker
  2. Division of Genomics and RNomics, Innsbruck Medical University-Biocenter, Fritz-Pregl-Strasse 3, Innsbruck, 6020, Austria

    • Melanie Lukasser
    •  & Alexander Hüttenhofer
  3. Department of Computer Science and Interdisciplinary Center of Bioinformatics, University of Leipzig, Härtelstrasse 16-18, Leipzig, D-04107, Germany

    • Peter F Stadler
  4. Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Rd., Santa Fe, 87501, New Mexico, USA

    • Peter F Stadler


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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peter F Stadler.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Fig. 1

    Northern Blot analysis of five H/ACA snoRNA candidates. (PDF 30 kb)

  2. Supplementary Table 1

    Detailed results of the native screen and the random control screen. (PDF 12 kb)

  3. Supplementary Table 2

    MicroRNAs missing from the input set. (PDF 11 kb)

  4. Supplementary Table 3

    H/ACA snoRNAs missing from the input set. (PDF 10 kb)

  5. Supplementary Table 4

    Selected ncRNAs from literature with conserved RNA secondary structures detected in our screen. (PDF 11 kb)

  6. Supplementary Table 5

    50 Selected RNAz Hits in intergenic regions overlapping with 'transfrag' transcriptional map. (PDF 347 kb)

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