The ability to form an intramolecular structure plays a fundamental role in eukaryotic RNA biogenesis. Proximate regions in the primary transcripts fold into a local secondary structure, which is then hierarchically assembled into a tertiary structure that is stabilized by RNA-binding proteins and long-range intramolecular base pairings. While the local RNA structure can be predicted reasonably well for short sequences, long-range structure at the scale of eukaryotic genes remains problematic from the computational standpoint. The aim of this review is to list functional examples of long-range RNA structures, to summarize current comparative methods of structure prediction, and to highlight their advances and limitations in the context of long-range RNA structures. Most comparative methods implement the “first-align-then-fold” principle, i.e., they operate on multiple sequence alignments, while functional RNA structures often reside in non-conserved parts of the primary transcripts. The opposite “first-fold-then-align” approach is currently explored to a much lesser extent. Developing novel methods in both directions will improve the performance of comparative RNA structure analysis and help discover novel long-range structures, their higher-order organization, and RNA–RNA interactions across the transcriptome.
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