The shuttling serine/arginine rich (SR) protein SRSF1 (previously known as SF2/ASF) is a splicing regulator that also activates translation in the cytoplasm. In order to dissect the gene network that is translationally regulated by SRSF1, we performed a high-throughput deep sequencing analysis of polysomal fractions in cells overexpressing SRSF1. We identified approximately 1500 mRNAs that are translational targets of SRSF1. These include mRNAs encoding proteins involved in cell cycle regulation, such as spindle, kinetochore, and M phase proteins, which are essential for accurate chromosome segregation. Indeed, we show that translational activity of SRSF1 is required for normal mitotic progression. Furthermore, we found that mRNAs that display alternative splicing changes upon SRSF1 overexpression are also its translational targets, strongly suggesting that SRSF1 couples pre-mRNA splicing and translation. These data provide insights on the complex role of SRSF1 in the control of gene expression at multiple levels and its implications in cancer.
Genes contain the instructions to make proteins. These instructions are first transcribed to produce an intermediate molecule called a messenger RNA (mRNA), which is then translated to produce the protein. However, gene sequences are often interrupted by ‘introns’, sections of DNA that do not code for protein, and these introns must be removed from the mRNA molecules via a process called ‘splicing’ before the protein is produced.
Splicing can also be used to ‘mix and match’ sections of gene sequences to produce slightly different versions of the same protein in a process called ‘alternative splicing’. SRSF1 is one of a family of proteins that control both types of gene splicing but also promotes the translation of specific mRNAs. To date only a few of the genes whose translation is regulated by SRSF1 have been identified.
Here, Maslon, Heras et al. have used human cells that artificially produce more SRSF1 protein than normal to identify those genes whose translation is regulated by SRSF1. Over 1500 ‘target genes’ were found; many of which encoded proteins that are involved in cell division—and cells with less SRSF1 than normal failed to divide properly. Maslon, Heras et al. also found a link between alternative splicing and protein translation: many of the mRNAs that were spliced differently in cells that over-produced SRSF1 were also genes whose translation was affected by SRSF1.
Since uncontrolled cell division, or defects in mRNA splicing or protein synthesis are all often linked to cancer, these discoveries might provide new insights into the mechanisms underlying this disease.