meCLICK-Seq – a substrate-hijacking and RNA degradation strategy for the study of RNA methylation

The fates of RNA species in a cell are controlled by ribonucleases, which degrade them by exploiting the universal structural 2′-OH group. This phenomenon plays a key role in numerous transformative technologies, for example, RNA interference and CRISPR/Cas13-based RNA editing systems. These approaches, however, are genetic or oligomer-based and so have inherent limitations. This has led to interest in the development of small molecules capable of degrading nucleic acids in a targeted manner.

University of Cambridge researchers now describe click-degraders, small molecules that can be covalently attached to RNA species through click-chemistry and can degrade them, that are akin to ribonucleases. By using these molecules, the researchers have developed the meCLICK-Seq (methylation CLICK-degradation Sequencing) a method to identify RNA modification substrates with high resolution at intronic and intergenic regions. The method hijacks RNA methyltransferase activity to introduce an alkyne, instead of a methyl, moiety on RNA. Subsequent copper(I)-catalyzed azide–alkyne cycloaddition reaction with the click-degrader leads to RNA cleavage and degradation exploiting a mechanism used by endogenous ribonucleases. Focusing on N6-methyladenosine (m6A), meCLICK-Seq identifies methylated transcripts, determines RNA methylase specificity, and reliably maps modification sites in intronic and intergenic regions.

Proposed mechanism of action of meCLICK-Seq


The researchers show that METTL16 deposits m6A to intronic polyadenylation (IPA) sites, which suggests a potential role for METTL16 in IPA and, in turn, splicing. Unlike other methods, the readout of meCLICK-Seq is depletion, not enrichment, of modified RNA species, which allows a comprehensive and dynamic study of RNA modifications throughout the transcriptome, including regions of low abundance. The click-degraders are highly modular and so may be exploited to study any RNA modification and design new technologies that rely on RNA degradation.

Mikutis S, Gu M, Sendinc E, Hazemi ME, Kiely-Collins H, Aspris D, Vassiliou DS, Shi Y, Tzelepis K, Bernarde GJL. (2020) meCLICK-Seq, a Substrate-Hijacking and RNA Degradation Strategy for the Study of RNA Methylation. ACS Cent Sci [Epub ahead of print]. [article]

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