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Disease-associated human genetic variation through the lens of precursor and mature RNA structure

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Disease-associated variants (DAVs) are commonly considered either through a genomic lens that describes variant function at the DNA level, or at the protein function level if the variant is translated. Although the genomic and proteomic effects of variation are well-characterized, genetic variants disrupting post-transcriptional regulation is another mechanism of disease that remains understudied. Specific RNA sequence motifs mediate post-transcriptional regulation both in the nucleus and cytoplasm of eukaryotic cells, often by binding to RNA-binding proteins or other RNAs. However, many DAVs map far from these motifs, which suggests deeper layers of post-transcriptional mechanistic control. Here, we consider a transcriptomic framework to outline the importance of post-transcriptional regulation as a mechanism of disease-causing single-nucleotide variation in the human genome. We first describe the composition of the human transcriptome and the importance of abundant yet overlooked components such as introns and untranslated regions (UTRs) of messenger RNAs (mRNAs). We present an analysis of Human Gene Mutation Database variants mapping to mRNAs and examine the distribution of causative disease-associated variation across the transcriptome. Although our analysis confirms the importance of post-transcriptional regulatory motifs, a majority of DAVs do not directly map to known regulatory motifs. Therefore, we review evidence that regions outside these well-characterized motifs can regulate function by RNA structure-mediated mechanisms in all four elements of an mRNA: exons, introns, 5′ and 3′ UTRs. To this end, we review published examples of riboSNitches, which are single-nucleotide variants that result in a change in RNA structure that is causative of the disease phenotype. In this review, we present the current state of knowledge of how DAVs act at the transcriptome level, both through altering post-transcriptional regulatory motifs and by the effects of RNA structure.

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This work was supported by US National Institutes of Health R35 GM140844, R01 GM101237 and R01 HL111527 to AL.

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AL and JW conceived the work. JK collected and analyzed the data. JW and AL wrote the manuscript. All authors edited and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Alain Laederach.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Waldern, J.M., Kumar, J. & Laederach, A. Disease-associated human genetic variation through the lens of precursor and mature RNA structure. Hum Genet 141, 1659–1672 (2022).

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