Full-length tRNAs lacking a functional CCA tail are selectively sorted into the lumen of extracellular vesicles

Chantal Scheepbouwer, Ernesto Aparicio-Puerta, Cristina Gómez-Martin, Monique A J van Eijndhoven, Esther E E Drees, Leontien Bosch, Daphne de Jong, Thomas Wurdinger, Josée M Zijlstra, Michael Hackenberg, Alan Gerber, D Michiel Pegtel

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Small extracellular vesicles (sEVs) are heterogenous lipid membrane particles typically less than 200 nm in size and secreted by most cell types either constitutively or upon activation signals. sEVs isolated from biofluids contain RNAs, including small non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), that can be either encapsulated within the EV lumen or bound to the EV surface. EV-associated microRNAs (miRNAs) are, despite a relatively low abundance, extensively investigated for their selective incorporation and their role in cell-cell communication. In contrast, the sorting of highly-structured ncRNA species is understudied, mainly due to technical limitations of traditional small RNA sequencing protocols. Here, we adapted ALL-tRNAseq to profile the relative abundance of highly structured and potentially methylated small ncRNA species, including transfer RNAs (tRNAs), small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs), and Y RNAs in bulk EV preparations. We determined that full-length tRNAs, typically 75 to 90 nucleotides in length, were the dominant small ncRNA species (>60% of all reads in the 18-120 nucleotides size-range) in all cell culture-derived EVs, as well as in human plasma-derived EV samples, vastly outnumbering 21 nucleotides-long miRNAs. Nearly all EV-associated tRNAs were protected from external RNAse treatment, indicating a location within the EV lumen. Strikingly, the vast majority of luminal-sorted, full-length, nucleobase modification-containing EV-tRNA sequences, harbored a dysfunctional 3' CCA tail, 1 to 3 nucleotides truncated, rendering them incompetent for amino acid loading. In contrast, in non-EV associated extracellular particle fractions (NVEPs), tRNAs appeared almost exclusively fragmented or 'nicked' into tRNA-derived small RNAs (tsRNAs) with lengths between 18 to 35 nucleotides. We propose that in mammalian cells, tRNAs that lack a functional 3' CCA tail are selectively sorted into EVs and shuttled out of the producing cell, offering a new perspective into the physiological role of secreted EVs and luminal cargo-selection.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2024

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