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Rat BodyMap transcriptomes reveal unique circular RNA features across tissue types and developmental stages
Circular RNAs (circRNAs) are a novel class of regulatory RNAs. Here, we present a comprehensive investigation of circRNA expression profiles across 11 tissues and four developmental stages in rats, along with cross-species analyses in humans and mice. Although the expression of circRNAs is positively correlated with that of cognate mRNAs, highly expressed genes tend to splice a larger fraction of circular transcripts. Moreover, circRNAs exhibit higher tissue specificity than cognate mRNAs. Intriguingly, while we observed a monotonic increase of circRNA abundance with age in the rat brain, we further discovered a dynamic, age-dependent pattern of circRNA expression in the testes that is characterized by a dramatic increase with advancing stages of sexual maturity and a decrease with aging. The age-sensitive testicular circRNAs are highly associated with spermatogenesis, independent of cognate mRNA expression. The tissue/age implications of circRNAs suggest that they present unique physiological functions rather than simply occurring as occasional by-products of gene transcription.