RNA Modifications: Reversal Mechanisms and Cancer

Roopa Thapar, Albino Bacolla, Clement Oyeniran, Joshua R. Brickner, Naga Babu Chinnam, Nima Mosammaparast, John A. Tainer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


An emerging molecular understanding of RNA alkylation and its removal is transforming our knowledge of RNA biology and its interplay with cancer chemotherapy responses. DNA modifications are known to perform critical functions depending on the genome template, including gene expression, DNA replication timing, and DNA damage protection, yet current results suggest that the chemical diversity of DNA modifications pales in comparison to those on RNA. More than 150 RNA modifications have been identified to date, and their complete functional implications are still being unveiled. These include intrinsic roles such as proper processing and RNA maturation; emerging evidence has furthermore uncovered RNA modification "readers", seemingly analogous to those identified for histone modifications. These modification recognition factors may regulate mRNA stability, localization, and interaction with translation machinery, affecting gene expression. Not surprisingly, tumors differentially modulate factors involved in expressing these marks, contributing to both tumorigenesis and responses to alkylating chemotherapy. Here we describe the current understanding of RNA modifications and their removal, with a focus primarily on methylation and alkylation as functionally relevant changes to the transcriptome. Intriguingly, some of the same RNA modifications elicited by physiological processes are also produced by alkylating agents, thus blurring the lines between what is a physiological mark and a damage-induced modification. Furthermore, we find that a high level of gene expression of enzymes with RNA dealkylation activity is a sensitive readout for poor survival in four different cancer types, underscoring the likely importance of examining RNA dealkylation mechanisms to cancer biology and for cancer treatment and prognosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-329
Number of pages18
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 5 2019


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