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In Briefings in bioinformatics

Messenger RNA-based therapeutics have shown tremendous potential, as demonstrated by the rapid development of messenger RNA based vaccines for COVID-19. Nevertheless, distribution of mRNA vaccines worldwide has been hampered by mRNA's inherent thermal instability due to in-line hydrolysis, a chemical degradation reaction. Therefore, predicting and understanding RNA degradation is a crucial and urgent task. Here we present RNAdegformer, an effective and interpretable model architecture that excels in predicting RNA degradation. RNAdegformer processes RNA sequences with self-attention and convolutions, two deep learning techniques that have proved dominant in the fields of computer vision and natural language processing, while utilizing biophysical features of RNA. We demonstrate that RNAdegformer outperforms previous best methods at predicting degradation properties at nucleotide resolution for COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. RNAdegformer predictions also exhibit improved correlation with RNA in vitro half-life compared with previous best methods. Additionally, we showcase how direct visualization of self-attention maps assists informed decision-making. Further, our model reveals important features in determining mRNA degradation rates via leave-one-feature-out analysis.

He Shujun, Gao Baizhen, Sabnis Rushant, Sun Qing


COVID-19 mRNA, bioinformatics, deep learning, mRNA vaccine degradation