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In RNA biology

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) can serve as activation signals for membrane receptors, a recently discovered function that is independent of the miRNAs' conventional role in post-transcriptional gene regulation. Here, we introduce a machine learning approach, BrainDead, to identify oligonucleotides that act as ligands for single-stranded RNA-detecting Toll-like receptors (TLR)7/8, thereby triggering an immune response. BrainDead was trained on activation data obtained from in vitro experiments on murine microglia, incorporating sequence and intra-molecular structure, as well as inter-molecular homo-dimerization potential of candidate RNAs. The method was applied to analyse all known human miRNAs regarding their potential to induce TLR7/8 signalling and microglia activation. We validated the predicted functional activity of subsets of high- and low-scoring miRNAs experimentally, of which a selection has been linked to Alzheimer's disease. High agreement between predictions and experiments confirms the robustness and power of BrainDead. The results provide new insight into the mechanisms of how miRNAs act as TLR ligands. Eventually, BrainDead implements a generic machine learning methodology for learning and predicting the functions of short RNAs in any context.

Raden Martin, Wallach Thomas, Miladi Milad, Zhai Yuanyuan, Krüger Christina, Mossmann Zoé J, Dembny Paul, Backofen Rolf, Lehnardt Seija


RNA structure, TLR, ligand, machine learning, miRNA