Jeremy Wilusz received his Ph.D. from the Watson School of Biological Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and performed postdoctoral studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research addresses the mechanisms by which noncoding RNAs are generated, regulated and function. Wilusz has been the recipient of the RNA Society/Scaringe Young Scientist Award, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Postdoctoral Fellowship and the National Institutes of Health Pathway to Independence Award.
It was long assumed that eukaryotic precursor mRNAs (pre-mRNAs) are almost always spliced to generate a linear mRNA that is then translated to produce a protein. However, recent deep sequencing studies have revealed thousands of protein-coding genes that are non-canonically spliced to produce circular RNAs with covalently linked ends. Some RNA circles are expressed at much higher levels than their associated linear mRNAs, suggesting that the main function of some genes may be to produce circular noncoding RNAs, not proteins. Wilusz’s research aims to reveal (i) how the choice between linear versus circular RNA production is made, (ii) how circular RNAs function and (iii) how misregulation of circular RNAs contributes to human cancer. As part of these efforts, his team has shown that circular RNA biogenesis is often initiated when complementary sequences from two different introns base-pair to one another. This brings the splice sites from the intervening exon(s) into close proximity to facilitate the backsplicing event that generates the circular RNA.They have used this knowledge to make plasmids that efficiently circularize exons in vivo, allowing them to begin to identify novel roles for circular RNAs in normal and cancer cells.