Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Neurobiology; RNA Therapeutics Institute

First Thesis Advisor

Melissa J. Moore

Second Thesis Advisor

Sean R. Eddy


Neurons, RNA localization, Introns, Splicing, tRNA


RNA molecules are diverse in form and function. They include messenger RNAs (mRNAs) that are templates for proteins, splice products such as introns that can generate functional noncoding RNAs, and a slew of smaller RNAs such as transfer RNAs (tRNAs) that help decode mRNAs into proteins. RNAs can show distinct patterns of subcellular localization that play an important role in protein localization. However, RNA distribution in cells is incompletely understood, with prior studies focusing primarily on RNAs that are long (>200 nucleotides), fully processed, and polyadenylated. We examined the distribution of RNAs in neurons. Neuronal compartments can be separated by long distances and play distinct roles, raising the possibility that RNA localization is especially overt and functionally meaningful in these cells. In our exploration, we physically dissected projections from cell bodies of neurons from the rat brain and sequenced total RNA. We describe two main findings. First, we identified excised introns that are enriched in neuronal projections and confirmed their localization by single- molecule fluorescence in situ hybridization. These are a previously unknown set of circular RNAs in neuronal projections: tailless lariats that possess a non- canonical C branchpoint. Second, we observed a highly abundant population of small (20-150 nucleotide) RNAs in neuronal projections, most of which are tRNAs. For both circular introns and tRNAs, we did not observe known RNA localization signals. Thus, many types of RNA, if sufficiently stable, appear free to diffuse to distant locations, their localization perhaps aided by the movement of large organelles in the confines of neuronal projections. Our survey of RNA molecules across subcellular compartments provides a foundation for investigating the function of these molecules and the mechanisms that localize them.



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