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Circular RNA architecture and differentiation during leaf bud to young leaf development in tea (Camellia sinensis)

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Circular RNA (circRNA) discovery, expression patterns and experimental validation in developing tea leaves indicates its correlation with circRNA-parental genes and potential roles in ceRNA interaction network.

Circular RNAs (circRNAs) have recently emerged as a novel class of abundant endogenous stable RNAs produced by circularization with regulatory potential. However, identification of circRNAs in plants, especially in non-model plants with large genomes, is challenging. In this study, we undertook a systematic identification of circRNAs from different stage tissues of tea plant (Camellia sinensis) leaf development using rRNA-depleted circular RNA-seq. By combining two state-of-the-art detecting tools, we characterized 3174 circRNAs, of which 342 were shared by each approach, and thus considered high-confidence circRNAs. A few predicted circRNAs were randomly chosen, and 20 out of 24 were experimental confirmed by PCR and Sanger sequencing. Similar in other plants, tissue-specific expression was also observed for many C. sinensis circRNAs. In addition, we found that circRNA abundances were positively correlated with the mRNA transcript abundances of their parental genes. qRT-PCR validated the differential expression patterns of circRNAs between leaf bud and young leaf, which also indicated the low expression abundance of circRNAs compared to the standard mRNAs from the parental genes. We predicted the circRNA-microRNA interaction networks, and 54 of the differentially expressed circRNAs were found to have potential tea plant miRNA binding sites. The gene sets encoding circRNAs were significantly enriched in chloroplasts related GO terms and photosynthesis/metabolites biosynthesis related KEGG pathways, suggesting the candidate roles of circRNAs in photosynthetic machinery and metabolites biosynthesis during leaf development.

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Circular RNA


Competing endogenous RNA


Micro RNA


Quantitative real-time PCR


Differentially expressed circRNAs


Gene ontology


Enrichment and Kyoto encyclopedia of genes and genomes


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This work was supported by the Top Talent Team Project of Anhui Agriculture University (No. 03082021), the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (Nos. 2017M621992, 2017M612055, 2016M601998), and the Postdoctoral Science Foundation of Anhui Province, China (No. 2017B189), the Special Innovative Province Construction in Anhui Province (No. 15czs08032), the Special Project for Central Guiding Science and Technology Innovation of Region in Anhui Province (No. 2016080503B024).

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Correspondence to Chaoling Wei or Jeffrey L. Bennetzen.

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Tong, W., Yu, J., Hou, Y. et al. Circular RNA architecture and differentiation during leaf bud to young leaf development in tea (Camellia sinensis). Planta 248, 1417–1429 (2018).

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