Messenger RNA modifications: Form, distribution, and function

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Science  17 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6292, pp. 1408-1412
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8711

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RNA contains more than 100 distinct modifications that promote the functions of stable noncoding RNAs in translation and splicing. Recent technical advances have revealed widespread and sparse modification of messenger RNAs with N6-methyladenosine (m6A), 5-methylcytosine (m5C), and pseudouridine (Ψ). Here we discuss the rapidly evolving understanding of the location, regulation, and function of these dynamic mRNA marks, collectively termed the epitranscriptome. We highlight differences among modifications and between species that could instruct ongoing efforts to understand how specific mRNA target sites are selected and how their modification is regulated. Diverse molecular consequences of individual m6A modifications are beginning to be revealed, but the effects of m5C and Ψ remain largely unknown. Future work linking molecular effects to organismal phenotypes will broaden our understanding of mRNA modifications as cell and developmental regulators.

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