Besides linear RNAs, pre-mRNA splicing generates three forms of RNAs: lariat introns, Y-structure introns from trans-splicing, and circular exons through exon skipping. To study the persistence of excised introns in total cellular RNA, we used three Escherichia coli 3′ to 5′ exoribonucleases. Ribonuclease R (RNase R) thoroughly degrades the abundant linear RNAs and the Y-structure RNA, while preserving the loop portion of a lariat RNA. Ribonuclease II (RNase II) and polynucleotide phosphorylase (PNPase) also preserve the lariat loop, but are less efficient in degrading linear RNAs. RNase R digestion of the total RNA from human skeletal muscle generates an RNA pool consisting of lariat and circular RNAs. RT-PCR across the branch sites confirmed lariat RNAs and circular RNAs in the pool generated by constitutive and alternative splicing of the dystrophin pre-mRNA. Our results indicate that RNase R treatment can be used to construct an intronic cDNA library, in which majority of the intron lariats are represented. The highly specific activity of RNase R implies its ability to screen for rare intragenic trans-splicing in any target gene with a large background of cis-splicing. Further analysis of the intronic RNA pool from a specific tissue or cell will provide insights into the global profile of alternative splicing.
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