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Screening for functional circular RNAs using the CRISPR-Cas13 system

By Siqi Li, Xiang Li, Wei Xue, Lin Zhang, Shi-Meng Cao, Yun-Ni Lei, Liang-Zhong Yang, Si-Kun Guo, Jia-Lin Zhang, Xiang Gao, Jia Wei, Jinsong Li, Li Yang, Ling-Ling Chen

Posted 25 Mar 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.03.23.002865

Circular RNAs (circRNAs) produced from back-spliced exons are widely expressed, but individual circRNA functions remain poorly understood due to inadequate methods, such as RNAi and genome engineering, in distinguishing overlapped exons in circRNAs from those in linear cognate mRNAs1,2. Here we report that the programable RNA-guided, RNA-targeting CRISPR-Cas13, RfxCas13d, effectively and specifically discriminates circRNAs from mRNAs, using guide (g)RNAs targeting sequences spanning the back-splicing junction (BSJ) sites featured in RNA circles. Using a lentiviral library that targets sequences across BSJ sites of highly expressed human circRNAs, we show that a group of circRNAs are important for cell growth mostly in a cell-type specific manner and that a common oncogenic circRNA, circFAM120A , promotes cell proliferation in vitro and in vivo by preventing FAM120A mRNA from binding the translation inhibitor IGF2BP2 for efficient translation. Application of RfxCas13d/BSJ-gRNA screening has also uncovered circMan1a2 with regulatory potential in mouse embryo preimplantation development. Together, these results establish CRISPR-RfxCas13d as a useful tool for the discovery and functional study of circRNAs at both individual and large-scale levels.

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