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The emerging research field of extracellular RNA: an editorial preface

It is our very great pleasure to announce the launch of ExRNA, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal aiming to develop a platform for innovative research in the field of extracellular RNA.

Because RNA is thought to be unstable in the extracellular environment, the presence of extracellular RNA and the significance of extracellular RNA began to emerge only recently. Although there were scattered reports that the secreted RNA could be translated into proteins by the recipient cells [1, 2], the role of secreted RNA as a mechanism of communication among cells was initially underappreciated. This situation changed with the discovery of highly stable extracellular microRNA (miRNA), a class of 22-nt non-coding RNA, in animal and human plasma and serum [3, 4].

In the past decade, we have witnessed astonishing research progress in the new and exciting field of discovery focused on extracellular RNA. Numerous studies have demonstrated that extracellular miRNAs can serve as non-invasive biomarkers for various diseases including cancer [5, 6]. Cell-secreted extracellular vesicles, such as exosomes and microvesicles, have been recognized as ideal carriers for functional extracellular RNAs [7, 8]. Additionally, our understanding has been advanced by the classification of non-coding RNAs into various functional categories including small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs), long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) and circular RNAs (circRNAs). Although there is yet much to be discovered regarding the function and biogenesis of these non-coding RNAs, accumulating evidence suggests that these RNAs can be broadly transferred among different cell types both within a host [9, 10] and across species [11,12,13,14,15]. Moreover, the functional significance of the transfer of RNAs in regulating the cellular function of the recipient cells has been vigorously investigated [16,17,18]. Understanding the roles of these extracellular RNAs in contributing to the progression of disease offers new opportunities for efficacious treatments [19].

Heretofore, investigations in this new area of inquiry into the identity, function, and significance of extracellular RNAs have been published across a broad spectrum of journals. The purpose of launching ExRNA is to meet the urgent demand for a journal that can serve as a repository covering the diverse field of extracellular RNA research. The journal will cover all areas of experimental laboratory and clinical research relevant to various types of extracellular RNAs. Our objective is to expedite the rapid exchange of important new information in as accessible a manner as possible. The primary criteria for acceptance will be originality and merit.

Our Editorial Board will work tirelessly to bring this journal to fruition by inviting publications on selected topics, by reviewing manuscripts, and by offering valuable advice. ExRNA is an ideal platform for international scientists to disseminate their discoveries to a wide audience and to discuss their science and topical issues. We call upon our colleagues worldwide to join us in support of ExRNA and to help build it into an objective, advanced, open and successful journal.


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KZ and C-YZ wrote the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Chen-Yu Zhang.

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Zen, K., Zhang, CY. The emerging research field of extracellular RNA: an editorial preface. ExRNA 1, 4 (2019).

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