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Open Access Open Badges Correspondence

SNOntology: Myriads of novel snornas or just a mirage?

Julia A Makarova and Dmitri A Kramerov*

Author Affiliations

Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology, Russian Academy of Sciences, 32 Vavilov St., Moscow 119991, Russia

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:543  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-543

Published: 3 November 2011



Small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs) are a large group of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) that mainly guide 2'-O-methylation (C/D RNAs) and pseudouridylation (H/ACA RNAs) of ribosomal RNAs. The pattern of rRNA modifications and the set of snoRNAs that guide these modifications are conserved in vertebrates. Nearly all snoRNA genes in vertebrates are localized in introns of other genes and are processed from pre-mRNAs. Thus, the same promoter is used for the transcription of snoRNAs and host genes.


The series of studies by Dahai Zhu and coworkers on snoRNAs and their genes were critically considered. We present evidence that dozens of species-specific snoRNAs that they described in vertebrates are experimental artifacts resulting from the improper use of Northern hybridization. The snoRNA genes with putative intrinsic promoters that were supposed to be transcribed independently proved to contain numerous substitutions and are, most likely, pseudogenes. In some cases, they are localized within introns of overlooked host genes. Finally, an increased number of snoRNA genes in mammalian genomes described by Zhu and coworkers is also an artifact resulting from two mistakes. First, numerous mammalian snoRNA pseudogenes were considered as genes, whereas most of them are localized outside of host genes and contain substitutions that question their functionality. Second, Zhu and coworkers failed to identify many snoRNA genes in non-mammalian species. As an illustration, we present 1352 C/D snoRNA genes that we have identified and annotated in vertebrates.


Our results demonstrate that conclusions based only on databases with automatically annotated ncRNAs can be erroneous. Special investigations aimed to distinguish true RNA genes from their pseudogenes should be done. Zhu and coworkers, as well as most other groups studying vertebrate snoRNAs, give new names to newly described homologs of human snoRNAs, which significantly complicates comparison between different species. It seems necessary to develop a uniform nomenclature for homologs of human snoRNAs in other vertebrates, e.g., human gene names prefixed with several-letter code denoting the vertebrate species.