Paraspeckles are nuclear bodies form around the long non-coding RNA, Neat1, and RNA-binding proteins. While their role is not fully understood, they are believed to control gene expression at a post-transcriptional level by means of the nuclear retention of mRNA containing in their 3’-UTR inverted repeats of Alu sequences (IRAlu). In this study, we found that, in pituitary cells, all components of paraspeckles including four major proteins and Neat1 displayed a circadian expression pattern. Furthermore the insertion of IRAlu at the 3’-UTR of the EGFP cDNA led to a rhythmic circadian nuclear retention of the egfp mRNA that was lost when paraspeckles were disrupted whereas insertion of a single antisense Alu had only a weak effect. Using real-time video-microscopy, these IRAlu were further shown to drive a circadian expression of EGFP protein. This study shows that paraspeckles, thanks to their circadian expression, control circadian gene expression at a post-transcriptional level.
Many biological features of animals, including body temperature and hormone levels, follow daily rhythms that repeat every 24 hours. These so-called circadian rhythms are driven by an internal body clock and are essential for the organism to adapt to the daily cycle of light and dark. Circadian rhythms also take place inside individual cells – for example, the amount of a given protein in a cell often rises and falls over each 24-hour period.
To generate these daily fluctuations, the processes used to make proteins based on the instructions encoded within a gene must be carefully controlled. Genes are first copied or ‘transcribed' into intermediate molecules called messenger RNAs (mRNAs). These mRNA molecules must then travel out of the cell’s nucleus before they can be de-coded to produce proteins. This means that daily fluctuations in mRNA and protein levels could occur because the rate at which the DNA is transcribed fluctuates or because controlling the steps that occur after transcription. However it is not clear how much these post-transcriptional steps contribute to circadian rhythms inside cells.
Recently, structures called paraspeckles were seen inside the nucleus. These structures are made from a long RNA molecule that does not code for a protein, and a number of proteins that can bind mRNA molecules. Paraspeckles are thought to prevent certain mRNAs from leaving the nucleus and therefore stop them from being decoded to make proteins. Torres et al. have now investigated whether paraspeckles may play a role in circadian rhythms.
Torres et al. looked at the long non-coding RNA and several proteins that are known to be components of paraspeckles in cells taken from the pituitary glands of rats using a variety of techniques. These cells were chosen because they were known to have a working circadian clock. The analysis showed that the levels of these components, as well as the number of paraspeckles within the nucleus, changed over the course of a daily cycle.
Torres et al. then confirmed that mRNAs containing a sequence that is known to recruit mRNAs to paraspeckes (the IRAlu sequence) could be also retained in the nucleus or released with a circadian rhythm. This pattern was lost when the paraspeckles were disrupted.
These findings suggest that daily fluctuations in protein levels can be post-transcriptionally controlled by paraspeckles rhythmically retaining mRNAs in the nucleus. Future studies could explore whether it may be possible to control circadian rhythms by targeting the paraspeckles, which could help to improve conditions where the internal body clock goes wrong.