Circular RNAs Represent a Novel Class of Human Cytomegalovirus Transcripts

Shaomin Yang, Xiaolian Liu, Mei Wang, Di Cao, Dabbu Kumar Jaijyan, Nicole Enescu, Jian Liu, Songbin Wu, Sashuang Wang, Wuping Sun, Lizu Xiao, Alison Gu, Yaolan Li, Hong Zhou, Sanjay Tyagi, Jianguo Wu, Qiyi Tang, Hua Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infects a large portion of the human population globally. Several HCMV-derived noncoding RNAs are involved in the regulation of viral gene expression and the virus life cycle. Here, we reported that circRNAs are a new class of HCMV transcripts. We bioinformatically predict 704 candidate circRNAs encoded by the TB40/E strain and 230 encoded by the HAN strain. We also systematically compare circRNA features, including the breakpoint sequence consensus, strand preference, length distribution, and exon numbers between host genome-encoded circRNAs and viral circRNAs, and showed that the unique characteristics of viral circRNAs are correlated with their genome types. Furthermore, we experimentally confirmed 324 back-splice junctions (BSJs) from three HCMV strains, Towne, TB40/E, and Toledo, and identified 4 representative HCMV circRNAs by RNase R treatment. Interestingly, we also showed that HCMV contains alternative back-splicing circRNAs. We developed a new amplified FISH method that allowed us to visualize circRNAs and quantify the number of circRNA molecules in the infected cells. The competitive endogenous RNA network analysis suggests that HCMV circRNAs play important roles in viral DNA synthesis via circRNA-miRNA-mRNA networks. Our findings highlight that circRNAs are an important component of the HCMV transcriptome that may contribute to viral replication and pathogenesis. IMPORTANCE HCMV infects 40% to 100% of the human population globally and may be a life-threatening pathogen in immunocompromised individuals. CircRNA is a family of unique RNA that is the most newly found and remains unknown in many aspects. Our current studies computationally identified HCMV-encoded circRNAs and confirmed the existence of the HCMV circRNAs in the infected cells. We systematically compared the features between host and different viral circRNAs and found that the unique characteristics of circRNAs were correlated with their genome types. We also first reported that HCMV contained alternative back-splicing circRNAs. More importantly, we developed a new amplified FISH method which allowed us for the first time not only to visualize circRNAs but also to quantify the number of circRNA molecules in the infected cells. This work describes a novel component of HCMV transcriptome bringing a new understanding of HCMV biology and disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Ecology
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology
  • Infectious Diseases


  • circRNA
  • cytomegalovirus
  • EBV
  • HCMV
  • KSHV
  • RNA splice junction


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