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New Technology Sheds Light on Dynamic RNA-Protein Interactions

More than 80% of the human genome is transcribed, generating a large ensemble of nascent RNA that is co-transcriptionally packaged by RNA-binding proteins (RBPs). This vast genomic output raises an important question – where and when do RBPs associate to direct all of these transcripts into their appropriate processing/export or turnover pathways? Researchers from Denmark and Scotland now address this question in a new article in Nature Communications.

Figure 1 legend (a) Simplified overview of the nuclear cap binding complex (CBC) and its two cofactors (ALYREF and RBM7), and their functions in RNA metabolism. (b) Schematic outline of the tiCLIP approach and the individual RNA binding profiles generated from each time point, (lower panel) as compared to regular steady state iCLIP which only captures the average RNA binding profile from a heterogenous unsynchronised population of cells (upper panel). (figure: Ross A. Cordiner)

A collaborative study between Prof. Torben Heick Jensen’s and Dr. Sander Granneman’s laboratories at Aarhus University and Edinburgh University, respectively, now reveals new insights into the spatiotemporal dynamics of co-transcriptional RNA-protein interaction.

The gold standard for studying such interactions in vivo is so-called UV-mediated ‘cross-linking and immunoprecipitation (CLIP)’ technology, which essentially involves irradiating cultured cells with UV light to permanently cross-link proteins to the RNAs they are interacting with. Subsequently, cognate RNAs can then be identified by purifying the ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complexes and performing high-throughput RNA sequencing. However, this technique only captures the steady-state protein-RNA binding profiles of the cultured cells, preventing dynamic analysis of protein-RNA interactions.

Developing a new technique - tiCLIP

To meet this challenge, Cordiner et al., developed a technique coined ‘temporal iCLIP (tiCLIP)’, which monitors protein-RNA interactions in a narrowly time-resolved window after the re-initiation of transcription, proceeding its prior shut-down. tiCLIP was then applied to the RNA-export factor ALYREF, the RNA-decay factor RBM7, and the cap-binding complex components CBP20 and CBP80 (see figure).

The study found that, regardless of their roles in RNA fate, all tested proteins interact with the nascent RNA as it exits the transcription machinery. These early interactions with nascent RNA may be an initial phase of transient RBP searching for higher affinity anchoring sites.

Additionally, the results demonstrate that the process of pre-mRNA splicing temporally separates the association of RNA-export and -decay factors binding to splicing intermediates.

Finally, the spatiotemporal resolution achieved by tiCLIP revealed underappreciated processing intermediates of small nucleolar RNA (snoRNAs) bound by the RNA decay factor, RBM7, which might shed light on the mechanism by which mature snoRNAs are processed.

The researchers are now working to further optimize the tiCLIP technology and to apply it to additional RBPs. One goal is to reach a resolution where CLIP can be used on tissue samples.


We strive to ensure that all our articles live up to the Danish universities' principles for good research communication. Against this background, the article is supplemented with the following information:



Study type


External funding

This work was supported by the Lundbeck and Novo Nordisk foundations (NNF, ExoAdapt Grant 311, an EMBO long-term fellowship (ALTF 1070-2017) and a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship (797358), Medical Research Council Non-Clinical Senior Research Fellowship (MR/R008205/1).

Conflicts of interest


Link to scientific paper

Ross A. Cordiner, Yuhui Dou, Rune Thomsen, Andrii Bugai, Sander Granneman & Torben Heick Jensen

Temporal-iCLIP captures co-transcriptional RNA-protein interactions

Nature Communications



Contact information

Professor Torben Heick-Jensen
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics
Aarhus University, Denmark
thj@mbg.au.dk - Mobil: +45 6020 2705