Circular RNAs (circRNAs) are broadly expressed in eukaryotic cells, but their molecular mechanism in human disease remains obscure. Here we show that circular antisense non-coding RNA in the INK4 locus (circANRIL), which is transcribed at a locus of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease on chromosome 9p21, confers atheroprotection by controlling ribosomal RNA (rRNA) maturation and modulating pathways of atherogenesis. CircANRIL binds to pescadillo homologue 1 (PES1), an essential 60S-preribosomal assembly factor, thereby impairing exonuclease-mediated pre-rRNA processing and ribosome biogenesis in vascular smooth muscle cells and macrophages. As a consequence, circANRIL induces nucleolar stress and p53 activation, resulting in the induction of apoptosis and inhibition of proliferation, which are key cell functions in atherosclerosis. Collectively, these findings identify circANRIL as a prototype of a circRNA regulating ribosome biogenesis and conferring atheroprotection, thereby showing that circularization of long non-coding RNAs may alter RNA function and protect from human disease.
Holdt, L. M., Stahringer, A., Sass, K., Pichler, G., Kulak, N. A., Wilfert, W., … Teupser, D. (2016). Circular non-coding RNA ANRIL modulates ribosomal RNA maturation and atherosclerosis in humans. Nature Communications, 7. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms12429