The subcellular localization of a biopolymer often informs its function. RNA is traditionally confined to the cytosolic and nuclear spaces, where it plays critical and conserved roles across nearly all biochemical processes. Our recent observation of cell surface glycoRNAs may further explain the extracellular role of RNA. While cellular membranes are efficient gatekeepers of charged polymers such as RNAs, a large body of research has demonstrated the accumulation of specific RNA species outside of the cell, termed extracellular RNAs (exRNAs). Across various species and forms of life, protein pores have evolved to transport RNA across membranes, thus providing a mechanistic path for exRNAs to achieve their extracellular topology. Here, we review types of exRNAs and the pores capable of RNA transport to provide a logical and testable path toward understanding the biogenesis and regulation of cell surface glycoRNAs.

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Ryan Flynn’s laboratory is focused on the exploration and discovery of how biopolymers like RNA and glycans work together to control cellular processes in the context of human disease.

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