Circular RNAs (circRNAs) are a newly discovered class of abundant and ubiquitous RNAs that are generated through back splicing: their 3’ and 5’ ends are joined to form a closed loop. Unlike mRNAs and other linear RNAs, circRNAs lack ends. As a consequence, regulatory elements found on linear RNA, including 5’ caps, 3’ untranslated regions (UTRs), and poly(A) tails are not present on circRNAs. The absence of regulatory features on circRNAs underscores how little is known about these highly-stable RNAs.
The Chen Laboratory uses a combination of molecular, cellular, genomic, and chemical biology to probe the scope of circRNA function in cells and uncover additional layers of regulation in health and disease. In particular, we are interested in the movement of circRNAs throughout the cell, their interactions with cellular machinery and metabolites, and regulation of their formation and degradation. Our work will reveal the "life cycle" of circRNAs, establish a cellular atlas of circRNAs, and define the small and macromolecules that contact them. These insights will address a fundamental question in biology of the molecular mechanisms that govern cellular function and provide the platform for developing novel therapies.
Autoimmune Diseases; Immune System; Immunotherapy; RNA, Double-Stranded; Mass Spectrometry; RNA, Circular