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The RNA Atlas expands the catalog of human non-coding RNAs

A Publisher Correction to this article was published on 28 June 2021

This article has been updated


Existing compendia of non-coding RNA (ncRNA) are incomplete, in part because they are derived almost exclusively from small and polyadenylated RNAs. Here we present a more comprehensive atlas of the human transcriptome, which includes small and polyA RNA as well as total RNA from 300 human tissues and cell lines. We report thousands of previously uncharacterized RNAs, increasing the number of documented ncRNAs by approximately 8%. To infer functional regulation by known and newly characterized ncRNAs, we exploited pre-mRNA abundance estimates from total RNA sequencing, revealing 316 microRNAs and 3,310 long non-coding RNAs with multiple lines of evidence for roles in regulating protein-coding genes and pathways. Our study both refines and expands the current catalog of human ncRNAs and their regulatory interactions. All data, analyses and results are available for download and interrogation in the R2 web portal, serving as a basis for future exploration of RNA biology and function.

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Fig. 1: RNA Atlas transcriptome generation and annotation.
Fig. 2: The RNA Atlas transcriptome catalogued many single-exon lncRNAs and revealed previously non-annotated PCGs.
Fig. 3: Analyses of RNA polyadenylation status.
Fig. 4: The association between sample ontology and expression distance.
Fig. 5: Total RNA transcriptomes facilitated the use of intron expression profiles to study regulatory modalities.
Fig. 6: Evidence for regulation by lncRNAs.
Fig. 7: Interpretation of lncRNA function.

Data availability

All types of RNA entities can be readily explored via the online R2: Genomics Analysis and Visualization Platform ( and via a dedicated accessible portal ( This portal includes genome browser profiles for the total RNA as well as polyA tracks for all samples. All samples can also be used for correlations, differential signals and many more analyses. In addition, the LongHorn results, described in this manuscript, can be explored.

The raw data (FASTQ files) and processed expression measurement tables from all RNA biotypes across samples have been deposited in the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) and are accessible through GEO series accession number GSE138734.

Code availability

Computer code used to generate the results presented in this manuscript is available at

Change history


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F.A.C. is supported by a Special Research Fund (BOF) scholarship of Ghent University (BOF.DOC.2017.0026.01). R.C. is supported by the Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (11Y6218N). T.-W.C. is supported by grants from the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan (MOST-109-2311-B-009 −002). A.U. is supported by research funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Leukemia Foundation and the Snowdome Foundation. G.A. is supported by a postgraduate scholarship from the Translational Cancer Research Network. M.R.W. and N.P.D. acknowledge support from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy program, administered by Bioplatforms Australia. We thank N. Yigit, A. Barr, S. Pathak, L. Way and A. Mai for their contributions in library preparation and A. Yunghans, E. Jaeger and A. Moshrefi for their assistance in library organization and sequencing/tracking/data management. This project was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreements 668858 and 826121 to P.M., P.S. and J. Koster and the Concerted Research Action of Ghent University (BOF/GOA 01G00819) to P.M. and K.B.

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Authors and Affiliations



P.M., J.V. and P.S. conceived the idea and designed and supervised the project. L.L. and H.-S.C. contributed to the implementation and design of most bioinformatic analyses. L.L performed most of the raw sequencing data processing, transcriptome assembly and filtering, polyadenylation classification and most of the presented analyses for quality assessment and characterization of the generated transcriptome. H.-S.C., T.-W.C. and P.S. performed the analyses related to prediction and validation of regulatory interactions mediated by ncRNAs. F.A.C. and K.D.P. performed the analyses to select the RNA Atlas genes and contributed to quality validation of the transcriptome. S.G., S.K. and G.P.S. generated and sequenced the polyA and total RNA libraries. P.-J.V. performed the evaluation of coding potential, analyses of mass spectrometry data, alignment of candidate protein sequences to other animal proteins via BLASTp and analysis of conservation with chimpanzee. R.C. and Y. S. contributed to the analyses of RNA biotype expression and sample ontology associations. J.N. performed the polyA-minus sequencing and the qPCR experiments. K. Vanderheyden and J.N. generated and sequenced the small RNA libraries. J.A. implemented the identification of miRNAs and sequence motif analysis. S.L. designed the primers for the qPCR experiments and contributed to the graphic design of schematic figures. A.P.T. performed the analysis of overlap between ONT reads in public datasets and RNA Atlas-only single-exon genes. E.J.B., W.T. and F.G. performed the experiments of CRISPRi-mediated transcriptional silencing of lncRNA MALAT1. M.V. generated the integrated circRNA reference dataset used for comparisons with RNA Atlas circRNAs. T.G. and T.D.M. performed the imprinting analyses. T.B.H. and J. Kjems implemented the circRNA identification workflow. N.N. developed the polyA-minus sequencing protocol. T.T., K. Vermaelen and K.R.B. provided immune system-related cell lines and cell types. N.P.D., G.A., M.R.W. and A.U. performed analyses and annotation of circRNAs and contributed to the analysis of ONT reads in public datasets. J. Koster developed dedicated tools to analyze RNA Atlas data and results and implemented them in a dedicated RNA Atlas datascope in the online portal R2. P.M. led the writing of the manuscript in collaboration with L.L., H.-S.C. and P.S. L.L., H.-S.C., G.P.S., J.V., P.S. and P.M. contributed to the conceptualization, interpretation and discussion of results. All authors commented on the manuscript and contributed to the presentation of the data and results. The authors acknowledge the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin for providing HPC resources that have contributed to the research results reported within this paper.

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Correspondence to Pavel Sumazin or Pieter Mestdagh.

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Lorenzi, L., Chiu, HS., Avila Cobos, F. et al. The RNA Atlas expands the catalog of human non-coding RNAs. Nat Biotechnol 39, 1453–1465 (2021).

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