Microtubule binding protein Tau has been implicated in a wide range of neurodegenerative disorders collectively classified as tauopathies. Exon 10 of the human tau gene, which codes for a microtubule binding repeat region, is alternatively spliced to form Tau protein isoforms containing either four or three microtubule binding repeats, Tau4R and Tau3R, respectively. The levels of different Tau splicing isoforms are fine-tuned by alternative splicing with the ratio of Tau4R/Tau3R maintained approximately at one in adult neurons. Mutations that disrupt tau exon 10 splicing regulation cause an imbalance of different tau splicing isoforms and have been associated with tauopathy. To search for factors interacting with tau pre-messenger RNA (pre-mRNA) and regulating tau exon 10 alternative splicing, we performed a yeast RNA–protein interaction screen and identified polypyrimidine tract binding protein associated splicing factor (PSF) as a candidate tau exon 10 splicing regulator. UV crosslinking experiments show that PSF binds to the stem-loop structure at the 5′ splice site downstream of tau exon 10. This PSF-interacting RNA element is distinct from known PSF binding sites previously identified in other genes. Overexpression of PSF promotes tau exon 10 exclusion, whereas down-regulation of the endogenous PSF facilitates exon 10 inclusion. Immunostaining shows that PSF is expressed in the human brain regions affected by tauopathy. Our data reveal a new player in tau exon 10 alternative splicing regulation and uncover a previously unknown mechanism of PSF in regulating tau pre-mRNA splicing.
Tau; Alternative splicing regulation; Tauopathy; RNA stem-loop secondary structure; Polypyrimidine tract binding protein associated splicing factor (PSF)
Intron removal from a pre-mRNA by RNA splicing was once thought to be controlled mainly by intron splicing signals. However, viral and other eukaryotic RNA exon sequences have recently been found to regulate RNA splicing, polyadenylation, export, and nonsense-mediated RNA decay in addition to their coding function. Regulation of alternative RNA splicing by exon sequences is largely attributable to the presence of two major cis-acting elements in the regulated exons, the exonic splicing enhancer (ESE) and the suppressor or silencer (ESS). Two types of ESEs have been verified from more than 50 genes or exons: purine-rich ESEs, which are the more common, and non-purine-rich ESEs. In contrast, the sequences of ESSs identified in approximately 21 genes or exons are highly diverse and show little similarity to each other. Through interactions with cellular splicing factors, an ESE or ESS determines whether or not a regulated splice site, usually an upstream 3′ splice site, will be used for RNA splicing. However, how these elements function precisely in selecting a regulated splice site is only partially understood. The balance between positive and negative regulation of splice site selection likely depends on the cis-element’s identity and changes in cellular splicing factors under physiological or pathological conditions.
RNA; exons; introns; alternative RNA splicing; gene expression; RNA processing; splicing enhancers; splicing suppressors
Regulation of alternative splicing is controlled by pre-mRNA sequences (cis-elements) and trans-acting protein factors that bind them. The combinatorial interactions of multiple protein factors with the cis-elements surrounding a given alternative splicing event lead to an integrated splicing decision. The mechanism of multifactorial splicing regulation is poorly understood. Using a splicing-sensitive DNA microarray, we assayed 352 Caenorhabditis elegans alternative cassette exons for changes in embryonic splicing patterns between wild-type and 12 different strains carrying mutations in a splicing factor. We identified many alternative splicing events that are regulated by multiple splicing factors. Many splicing factors have the ability to behave as splicing repressors for some alternative cassette exons and as splicing activators for others. Unexpectedly, we found that the ability of a given alternative splicing factor to behave as an enhancer or repressor of a specific splicing event can change during development. Our observations that splicing factors can change their effects on a substrate during development support a model in which combinatorial effects of multiple factors, both constitutive and developmentally regulated ones, contribute to the overall splicing decision.
Regulation between protein kinases is critical for the establishment of signaling pathways/networks to orchestrate cellular processes. Besides posttranslational phosphorylation, alternative pre-mRNA splicing is another way to control kinase properties, but splicing regulation between two kinases and the effect of resulting variants on cells have not been explored. We examined the effect of the protein kinase A (PKA) pathway on the alternative splicing and variant properties of the Ca++/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase kinase 2 (CaMKK2) gene in B35 neuroblastoma cells. Inclusion of the exon 16 of CaMKK2 was significantly reduced by H89, a PKA selective inhibitor. Consistently, overexpressed PKA strongly promoted the exon inclusion in a CaMKK2 sequence-dependent way in splicing reporter assays. In vitro, purified CaMKK2 variant proteins were kinase-active. In cells, they were differentially phosphorylated by PKA. In RNA interference assays, CaMKK2 was required for forskolin-induced neurite growth. Interestingly, overexpression of the variant without exon 16 (−E16) promoted neurite elongation while the other one (+E16) promoted neurite branching; in contrast, reduction of the latter variant enhanced neurite elongation. Moreover, the variants are differentially expressed and the exon 16-containing transcripts highly enriched in the brain, particularly the cerebellum and hippocampus. Thus, PKA regulates the alternative splicing of CaMKK2 to produce variants that differentially modulate neuronal differentiation. Taken together with the many distinct variants of kinases, alternative splicing regulation likely adds another layer of modulation between protein kinases in cellular signaling networks.
alternative splicing; protein kinase A; cross-regulation; neuronal differentiation; phosphorylation
The neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) gene contains an 801 nt exon that is included preferentially in neuronal cells. We have set up an in vitro splicing system that mimics the neuro-specific alternative splicing profile of NCAM exon 18. Splicing regulation is observed using model pre-mRNAs that contain competing 5' or 3' splice sites, suggesting that distinct pathways regulate NCAM 5' and 3' splice site selection. While inclusion of exon 18 is the predom-inant choice in neuronal cells, an element in the 5' common exon 17 improves exon 17/exon 19 splicing in a neuronal cell line. A similar behavior is observed in vitro as the element can stimulate the 5' splice site of exon 17 or a heterologous 5' splice site. The minimal 32 nt sequence of the exon 17 enhancer consists of purine stretches and A/C motifs. Mutations in the purine stretches compromise the binding of SR proteins and decreases splicing stimulation in vitro. Mutations in the A/C motifs do not affect SR protein binding but reduce enhancing activity. Our results suggest that the assembly of an enhancer complex containing SR proteins in a 5' common exon ensures that NCAM mRNAs lacking exon 18 are made in neuronal cells.
More than 90% of human genes are rich in intronic latent 5′ splice sites whose utilization in pre-mRNA splicing would introduce in-frame stop codons into the resultant mRNAs. We have therefore hypothesized that suppression of splicing (SOS) at latent 5′ splice sites regulates alternative 5′ splice site selection in a way that prevents the production of toxic nonsense mRNAs and verified this idea by showing that the removal of such in-frame stop codons is sufficient to activate latent splicing. Splicing control by SOS requires recognition of the mRNA reading frame, presumably recognizing the start codon sequence. Here we show that AUG sequences are indeed essential for SOS. Although protein translation does not seem to be required for SOS, the first AUG is shown here to be necessary but not sufficient. We further show that latent splicing can be elicited upon treatment with pactamycin—a drug known to block translation by its ability to recognize an RNA fold—but not by treatment with other drugs that inhibit translation through other mechanisms. The effect of pactamycin on SOS is dependent neither on steady-state translation nor on the pioneer round of translation. This effect is found for both transfected and endogenous genes, indicating that SOS is a natural mechanism.
The splicing of pre-mRNAs is an essential step of gene expression in eukaryotes. Introns are removed from split genes through the activities of the spliceosome, a large ribonuclear machine that is conserved throughout the eukaryotic lineage. While unicellular eukaryotes are characterized by less complex splicing, pre-mRNA splicing of multicellular organisms is often associated with extensive alternative splicing that significantly enriches their proteome. The alternative selection of splice sites and exons permits multicellular organisms to modulate gene expression patterns in a cell type specific fashion, thus contributing to their functional diversification. Alternative splicing is a regulated process that is mainly influenced by the activities of splicing regulators, such as SR proteins or hnRNPs. These modular factors have evolved from a common ancestor through gene duplication events to a diverse group of splicing regulators that mediate exon recognition through their sequence specific binding to pre-mRNAs. Given the strong correlations between intron expansion, the complexity of pre-mRNA splicing, and the emergence of splicing regulators, it is argued that the increased presence of SR and hnRNP proteins promoted the evolution of alternative splicing through relaxation of the sequence requirements of splice junctions.
Pre-mRNA splicing; Spliceosome; alternative splicing; splicing regulation; SR protein; hnRNP protein; evolution; intron expansion; gene duplication; multicellular eukaryote; unicellular eukaryote; exon recognition; splice site
Alternative pre-mRNA splicing has a major impact on cellular functions and development with the potential to fine-tune cellular localization, posttranslational modification, interaction properties, and expression levels of cognate proteins. The plasticity of regulation sets the stage for cells to adjust the relative levels of spliced mRNA isoforms in response to stress or stimulation. As part of an exon profiling analysis of mouse cortical neurons stimulated with high KCl to induce membrane depolarization, we detected a previously unrecognized exon (E24a) of the CASK gene, which encodes for a conserved peptide insertion in the guanylate kinase interaction domain. Comparative sequence analysis shows that E24a appeared selectively in mammalian CASK genes as part of a >3,000 base pair intron insertion. We demonstrate that a combination of a naturally defective 5′ splice site and negative regulation by several splicing factors, including SC35 (SRSF2) and ASF/SF2 (SRSF1), drives E24a skipping in most cell types. However, this negative regulation is countered with an observed increase in E24a inclusion after neuronal stimulation and NMDA receptor signaling. Taken together, E24a is typically a skipped exon, which awakens during neuronal stimulation with the potential to diversify the protein interaction properties of the CASK polypeptide.
Splicing therapeutics are defined as the deliberate modification of RNA splicing to achieve therapeutic goals. Various techniques for splicing therapeutics have been described, and most of these involve the use of antisense oligonucleotide-based compounds that target key elements in the pre-mRNA to control splicing in the nucleus. In this review, recent developments in splicing therapeutics for the treatment of two specific diseases are described: correcting the alternative splicing of survival of motor neuron (SMN)2 pre-mRNA to compensate for the defective SMN1 gene in spinal muscular atrophy, and re-engineering the splicing of apolipoprotein B pre-mRNA to lower circulating cholesterol levels.
Antisense oligonucleotide; APOB; apolipoprotein B; cholesterol; RNA splicing; SMN2; spinal muscular atrophy
Pre-mRNA splicing is an essential step in the process of gene expression in eukaryotes and consists of the removal of introns and the linking of exons to generate mature mRNAs. This is a highly regulated mechanism that allows the alternative usage of exons, the retention of intronic sequences and the generation of exonic sequences of variable length. Most human genes undergo splicing events, and disruptions of this process have been associated with a variety of diseases, including cancer. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a molecularly heterogeneous type of tumor that usually develops in a cirrhotic liver. Alterations in pre-mRNA splicing of some genes have been observed in liver cancer, and although still scarce, the available data suggest that splicing defects may have a role in hepatocarcinogenesis. Here we briefly review the general mechanisms that regulate pre-mRNA splicing, and discuss some examples that illustrate how this process is impaired in liver tumorigenesis, and may contribute to HCC development. We believe that a more thorough examination of pre-mRNA splicing is still needed to accurately draw the molecular portrait of liver cancer. This will surely contribute to a better understanding of the disease and to the development of new effective therapies.
Cell signalling; Hepatocarcinogenesis; Pre-mRNA splicing; Splicing factors; Targeted anticancer therapy
Alternative pre-mRNA splicing is widely used to regulate gene expression by tuning the levels of tissue-specific mRNA isoforms. Few regulatory mechanisms are understood at the level of combinatorial control despite numerous sequences, distinct from splice sites, that have been shown to play roles in splicing enhancement or silencing. Here we use molecular approaches to identify a ternary combination of exonic UAGG and 5′-splice-site-proximal
GGGG motifs that functions cooperatively to silence the brain-region-specific CI cassette exon (exon 19) of the glutamate NMDA R1 receptor (GRIN1) transcript. Disruption of three components of the motif pattern converted the CI cassette into a constitutive exon, while predominant skipping was conferred when the same components were introduced, de novo, into a heterologous constitutive exon. Predominant exon silencing was directed by the motif pattern in the presence of six competing exonic splicing enhancers, and this effect was retained after systematically repositioning the two exonic UAGGs within the CI cassette. In this system, hnRNP A1 was shown to mediate silencing while hnRNP H antagonized silencing. Genome-wide computational analysis combined with RT-PCR testing showed that a class of skipped human and mouse exons can be identified by searches that preserve the sequence and spatial configuration of the UAGG and
GGGG motifs. This analysis suggests that the multi-component silencing code may play an important role in the tissue-specific regulation of the CI cassette exon, and that it may serve more generally as a molecular language to allow for intricate adjustments and the coordination of splicing patterns from different genes.
Many genes are alternatively spliced, but the signals that regulate the process are unclear. These authors have found a sequence motif that appears to function at many alternatively spliced genes
The essential splicing factor SF2/ASF and the heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein A1 (hnRNP A1) modulate alternative splicing in vitro of pre-mRNAs that contain 5' splice sites of comparable strengths competing for a common 3' splice site. Using natural and model pre-mRNAs, we have examined whether the ratio of SF2/ASF to hnRNP A1 also regulates other modes of alternative splicing in vitro. We found that an excess of SF2/ASF effectively prevents inappropriate exon skipping and also influences the selection of mutually exclusive tissue-specific exons in natural beta-tropomyosin pre-mRNA. In contrast, an excess of hnRNP A1 does not cause inappropriate exon skipping in natural constitutively or alternatively spliced pre-mRNAs. Although hnRNP A1 can promote alternative exon skipping, this effect is not universal and is dependent, e.g., on the size of the internal alternative exon and on the strength of the polypyrimidine tract in the preceding intron. With appropriate alternative exons, an excess of SF2/ASF promotes exon inclusion, whereas an excess of hnRNP A1 causes exon skipping. We propose that in some cases the ratio of SF2/ASF to hnRNP A1 may play a role in regulating alternative splicing by exon inclusion or skipping through the antagonistic effects of these proteins on alternative splice site selection.
Alternative splicing of transcripts in a signal-dependent manner has emerged as an important concept to ensure appropriate expression of splice variants under different conditions. Binding of the general splicing factor U2AF to splice sites preceding alternatively spliced exons has been suggested to be an important step for splice site recognition. For splicing to proceed, U2AF has to be replaced by other factors. We show here that U2AF interacts with the signal-dependent splice regulator Sam68 and that forced expression of Sam68 results in enhanced binding of the U2AF65 subunit to an alternatively spliced pre-mRNA sequence in vivo. Conversely, the rapid signal-induced and phosphorylation-dependent interference with Sam68 binding to RNA was accompanied by reduced pre-mRNA occupancy of U2AF in vivo. Our data suggest that Sam68 can affect splice site occupancy by U2AF in signal-dependent splicing. We propose that the induced release of U2AF from pre-mRNA provides a regulatory step to control alternative splicing.
Alternative splicing is a fundamental feature in regulating the eukaryotic transcriptome, as ~95% of multi-exon human Pol II transcripts are subject to this process. Regulated splicing operates through the combinatorial interplay of positive and negative regulatory signals present in the pre-mRNA, which are recognized by trans-acting factors. All these RNA and protein components are assembled in a gigantic, 21 MDa, ribonucleoprotein splicing machine – the supraspliceosome. Because most alternatively spliced mRNA isoforms vary between different cell and tissue types, the ability to perform alternative splicing is expected to be an integral part of the supraspliceosome, which constitutes the splicing machine in vivo. Here we show that both the constitutively and alternatively spliced mRNAs of the endogenous human pol II transcripts: hnRNP A/B, survival of motor neuron (SMN) and ADAR2 are predominantly found in supraspliceosomes. This finding is consistent with our observations that the splicing regulators hnRNP G as well as all phosphorylated SR proteins are predominantly associated with supraspliceosomes. We further show that changes in alternative splicing of hnRNP A/B, affected by up regulation of SRSF5 (SRp40) or by treatment with C6-ceramide, occur within supraspliceosomes. These observations support the proposed role of the supraspliceosome in splicing regulation and alternative splicing.
RNA splicing; ribonucleoprotein; macromolecular assembly; alternative splicing; SR proteins; supraspliceosome
Alternative splicing plays an important role in regulation of bovine papillomavirus type 1 (BPV-1) gene expression. We have recently identified in BPV-1 late pre-mRNAs two purine-rich exonic splicing enhancers (SE1 and SE2) which also stimulate splicing of a Drosophila doublesex (dsx) pre-mRNA containing a suboptimal 3' splice site. In vivo studies now demonstrate that both SE1 and SE2 are required for preferential use of the BPV-1 nucleotide (nt) 3225 3' splice site in nonpermissive cells. Deletion or mutation of either element in a BPV-1 late pre-mRNA switches splicing to the late-specific alternative 3' splice site at nt 3605. To investigate the sequence specificity of these exonic splicing enhancers, various mutant SE1 or SE2 elements were connected to dsx pre-mRNAs and tested for their stimulatory effects on dsx pre-mRNA splicing in vitro. Substitution of U residues for either A or G residues in and around potential ASF/SF2 binding sites in SE1 or SE2 resulted in a significant reduction of splicing enhancer activity. However, the G-to-U substitutions in both enhancers had the largest effect, reducing splicing to near control levels. Further in vitro analyses showed that splicing enhancement by SE2 could be competed with excess unlabeled SE2 RNA, indicating that SE2 activity in HeLa nuclear extracts is mediated by trans-acting factors. UV cross-linking plus immunoprecipitation assays showed that both wild-type SE1 and SE2 RNAs could bind directly to purified HeLa SR proteins SRp30a (ASF/SF2), SRp55, and SRp75. UV cross-linking experiments also identified a 23-kDa protein which binds to SE2 but not SE1. This protein is present in both HeLa nuclear extracts and S100 extracts but absent from SR protein preparations, suggesting that it is not a classical SR protein. Mutant SE elements (containing G- to U-mutations) which had minimal splicing enhancer activity also had very weak binding capacity for these proteins, strongly suggesting that the binding of these proteins is required for splicing enhancer function.
Bovine papillomavirus type 1 (BPV-1) late pre-mRNAs are spliced in keratinocytes in a differentiation-specific manner: the late leader 5′ splice site alternatively splices to a proximal 3′ splice site (at nucleotide 3225) to express L2 or to a distal 3′ splice site (at nucleotide 3605) to express L1. Two exonic splicing enhancers, each containing two ASF/SF2 (alternative splicing factor/splicing factor 2) binding sites, are located between the two 3′ splice sites and have been identified as regulating alternative 3′ splice site usage. The present report demonstrates for the first time that ASF/SF2 is required under physiological conditions for the expression of BPV-1 late RNAs and for selection of the proximal 3′ splice site for BPV-1 RNA splicing in DT40-ASF cells, a genetically engineered chicken B-cell line that expresses only human ASF/SF2 controlled by a tetracycline-repressible promoter. Depletion of ASF/SF2 from the cells by tetracycline greatly decreased viral RNA expression and RNA splicing at the proximal 3′ splice site while increasing use of the distal 3′ splice site in the remaining viral RNAs. Activation of cells lacking ASF/SF2 through anti-immunoglobulin M-B-cell receptor cross-linking rescued viral RNA expression and splicing at the proximal 3′ splice site and enhanced Akt phosphorylation and expression of the phosphorylated serine/arginine-rich (SR) proteins SRp30s (especially SC35) and SRp40. Treatment with wortmannin, a specific phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt kinase inhibitor, completely blocked the activation-induced activities. ASF/SF2 thus plays an important role in viral RNA expression and splicing at the proximal 3′ splice site, but activation-rescued viral RNA expression and splicing in ASF/SF2-depleted cells is mediated through the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt pathway and is associated with the enhanced expression of other SR proteins.
The regulation of gene expression through alternative pre-mRNA splicing is common in metazoans and is often controlled by intracellular signaling pathways that are important in cell physiology. We have shown that the alternative splicing of a number of genes is controlled by membrane depolarization and Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase IV (CaMKIV) through CaMKIV-responsive RNA elements (CaRRE1 and CaRRE2); however, the trans-acting factors remain unknown. Here we show that the heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein (hnRNP) L is a CaRRE1 binding factor in nuclear extracts. An hnRNP L high affinity CA (cytidine-adenosine) repeat element is sufficient to mediate CaMKIV and hnRNP L repression of splicing in a location (3′-splice site proximity)-dependent way. Depletion of hnRNP L by RNA interference followed by rescue with coexpressed exogenous hnRNP L demonstrates that hnRNP L mediates the CaMKIV-regulated splicing through CA repeats in heterologous contexts. Depletion of hnRNP L also led to increased inclusion of the stress axis-regulated exon and a CA repeat-harboring exon under depolarization or with activated CaMKIV. Moreover, hnRNP L binding to CaRRE1 was increased by CaMKIV and, conversely, was reduced by pretreatments with protein phosphatases. Therefore, hnRNP L is an essential component of CaMKIV-regulated alternative splicing through CA repeats, with its phosphorylation likely playing a critical role.
PMID: 19017650 CAMSID: cams2374
Auxiliary splicing signals play a major role in the regulation of constitutive and alternative pre-mRNA splicing, but their relative importance in selection of mutation-induced cryptic or de novo splice sites is poorly understood. Here, we show that exonic sequences between authentic and aberrant splice sites that were activated by splice-site mutations in human disease genes have lower frequencies of splicing enhancers and higher frequencies of splicing silencers than average exons. Conversely, sequences between authentic and intronic aberrant splice sites have more enhancers and less silencers than average introns. Exons that were skipped as a result of splice-site mutations were smaller, had lower SF2/ASF motif scores, a decreased availability of decoy splice sites and a higher density of silencers than exons in which splice-site mutation activated cryptic splice sites. These four variables were the strongest predictors of the two aberrant splicing events in a logistic regression model. Elimination or weakening of predicted silencers in two reporters consistently promoted use of intron-proximal splice sites if these elements were maintained at their original positions, with their modular combinations producing expected modification of splicing. Together, these results show the existence of a gradient in exon and intron definition at the level of pre-mRNA splicing and provide a basis for the development of computational tools that predict aberrant splicing outcomes.
One of the most common splice variations are small exon length variations caused by the use of alternative donor or acceptor splice sites that are in very close proximity on the pre-mRNA. Among these, three-nucleotide variations at so-called NAGNAG tandem acceptor sites have recently attracted considerable attention, and it has been suggested that these variations are regulated and serve to fine-tune protein forms by the addition or removal of a single amino acid. In this paper we first show that in-frame exon length variations are generally overrepresented and that this overrepresentation can be quantitatively explained by the effect of nonsense-mediated decay. Our analysis allows us to estimate that about 50% of frame-shifted coding transcripts are targeted by nonsense-mediated decay. Second, we show that a simple physical model that assumes that the splicing machinery stochastically binds to nearby splice sites in proportion to the affinities of the sites correctly predicts the relative abundances of different small length variations at both boundaries. Finally, using the same simple physical model, we show that for NAGNAG sites, the difference in affinities of the neighboring sites for the splicing machinery accurately predicts whether splicing will occur only at the first site, splicing will occur only at the second site, or three-nucleotide splice variants are likely to occur. Our analysis thus suggests that small exon length variations are the result of stochastic binding of the spliceosome at neighboring splice sites. Small exon length variations occur when there are nearby alternative splice sites that have similar affinity for the splicing machinery.
It has recently become clear that splice variation affects most mammalian genes. It is, however, less clear to what extent these splice variations are functional and regulated by the cell as opposed to simply a result of noise in the splicing process.
One of the most frequently observed forms of splice variation are small variations in exon length in which the boundary of an exon is shifted by small amounts between different transcripts. In this work the authors study the statistics of these splice variations in detail, and the results suggest that these variations are mostly the result of noise in the splicing process. In particular, they propose a simple physical model in which the last step of splicing involves the sequence-specific binding of the splicing machinery to the splice site. In this model, small length variations can occur when there are nearby splice sites with comparable affinity for the splicing machinery. The authors show that this model not only accurately predicts the relative abundances of different splice variations but also predicts which splice sites are likely to undergo small exon length variations.
The assembly of synapses and neuronal circuits relies on an array of molecular recognition events and their modification by neuronal activity. Neurexins are a highly polymorphic family of synaptic receptors diversified by extensive alternative splicing. Neurexin variants exhibit distinct isoform-specific biochemical interactions and synapse assembly functions but the mechanisms governing splice isoform choice are not understood. We demonstrate that Nrxn1 alternative splicing is temporally and spatially controlled in the mouse brain. Neuronal activity triggers a shift in Nrxn1 splice isoform choice via calcium/calmodulin-dependent kinase IV signaling. Activity-dependent alternative splicing of Nrxn1 requires the KH-domain RNA binding protein SAM68 which associates with RNA response elements in the Nrxn1 pre-mRNA. Our findings uncover SAM68 as a key regulator of dynamic control of Nrxn1 molecular diversity and activity-dependent alternative splicing in the central nervous system.
RNA splicing is a major regulatory mechanism for controlling eukaryotic gene expression. By generating various splice isoforms from a single pre–mRNA, alternative splicing plays a key role in promoting the evolving complexity of metazoans. Numerous splicing factors have been identified. However, the in vivo functions of many splicing factors remain to be understood. In vivo studies are essential for understanding the molecular mechanisms of RNA splicing and the biology of numerous RNA splicing-related diseases. We previously isolated a Caenorhabditis elegans mutant defective in an essential gene from a genetic screen for suppressors of the rubberband Unc phenotype of unc-93(e1500) animals. This mutant contains missense mutations in two adjacent codons of the C. elegans microfibrillar-associated protein 1 gene mfap-1. mfap-1(n4564 n5214) suppresses the Unc phenotypes of different rubberband Unc mutants in a pattern similar to that of mutations in the splicing factor genes uaf-1 (the C. elegans U2AF large subunit gene) and sfa-1 (the C. elegans SF1/BBP gene). We used the endogenous gene tos-1 as a reporter for splicing and detected increased intron 1 retention and exon 3 skipping of tos-1 transcripts in mfap-1(n4564 n5214) animals. Using a yeast two-hybrid screen, we isolated splicing factors as potential MFAP-1 interactors. Our studies indicate that C. elegans mfap-1 encodes a splicing factor that can affect alternative splicing.
RNA splicing removes intervening intronic sequences from pre–mRNA transcripts and joins adjacent exonic sequences to generate functional messenger RNAs. The in vivo functions of numerous factors that regulate splicing remain to be understood. From a genetic screen for suppressors of the rubberband Unc phenotype caused by the Caenorhabditis elegans unc-93(e1500) mutation, we isolated a mutation that affects a highly conserved essential gene, mfap-1. MFAP-1 is a nuclear protein that is broadly expressed. MFAP-1 can affect the alternative splicing of tos-1, an endogenous reporter gene for splicing, and is required for the altered splicing at a cryptic 3′ splice site of tos-1. mfap-1 enhances the effects of the gene uaf-1 (splicing factor U2AF large subunit) in suppressing the rubberband Unc phenotype of unc-93(e1500) animals. Our studies provide in vivo evidence that MFAP-1 functions as a splicing factor.
Alternative splicing is a critical component of the early to late switch in papillomavirus gene expression. In bovine papillomavirus type 1 (BPV-1), a switch in 3′ splice site utilization from an early 3′ splice site at nucleotide (nt) 3225 to a late-specific 3′ splice site at nt 3605 is essential for expression of the major capsid (L1) mRNA. Three viral splicing elements have recently been identified between the two alternative 3′ splice sites and have been shown to play an important role in this regulation. A bipartite element lies approximately 30 nt downstream of the nt 3225 3′ splice site and consists of an exonic splicing enhancer (ESE), SE1, followed immediately by a pyrimidine-rich exonic splicing suppressor (ESS). A second ESE (SE2) is located approximately 125 nt downstream of the ESS. We have previously demonstrated that the ESS inhibits use of the suboptimal nt 3225 3′ splice site in vitro through binding of cellular splicing factors. However, these in vitro studies did not address the role of the ESS in the regulation of alternative splicing. In the present study, we have analyzed the role of the ESS in the alternative splicing of a BPV-1 late pre-mRNA in vivo. Mutation or deletion of just the ESS did not significantly change the normal splicing pattern where the nt 3225 3′ splice site is already used predominantly. However, a pre-mRNA containing mutations in SE2 is spliced predominantly using the nt 3605 3′ splice site. In this context, mutation of the ESS restored preferential use of the nt 3225 3′ splice site, indicating that the ESS also functions as a splicing suppressor in vivo. Moreover, optimization of the suboptimal nt 3225 3′ splice site counteracted the in vivo function of the ESS and led to preferential selection of the nt 3225 3′ splice site even in pre-mRNAs with SE2 mutations. In vitro splicing assays also showed that the ESS is unable to suppress splicing of a pre-mRNA with an optimized nt 3225 3′ splice site. These data confirm that the function of the ESS requires a suboptimal upstream 3′ splice site. A surprising finding of our study is the observation that SE1 can stimulate both the first and the second steps of splicing.
Although multiple regulatory elements and protein factors are known to regulate the non-neuronal pathway of alternative processing of the calcitonin/calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) pre-mRNA, the mechanisms controlling the neuron-specific pathway have remained elusive. Here we report the identification of Fox-1 and Fox-2 proteins as novel regulators that mediate the neuron-specific splicing pattern. Fox-1 and Fox-2 proteins function to repress exon 4 inclusion, and this effect depends on two UGCAUG elements surrounding the 3′ splice site of the calcitonin-specific exon 4. In neuron-like cells, mutation of a subset of UGCAUG elements promotes the non-neuronal pattern in which exon 4 is included. In HeLa cells, overexpression of Fox-1 or Fox-2 protein decreases exon 4 inclusion. Fox-1 and Fox-2 proteins interact with the UGCAUG elements specifically and regulate splicing by blocking U2AF65 binding to the 3′ splice site upstream of exon 4. We further investigated the inter-relationship between the UGCAUG silencer elements and the previously identified intronic and exonic splicing regulatory elements and found that exon 4 is regulated by an intricate balance of positive and negative regulation. These results define a critical role for Fox-1 and Fox-2 proteins in exon 4 inclusion of calcitonin/CGRP pre-mRNA and establish a regulatory network that controls the fate of exon 4.
A large fraction of protein-coding genes in metazoans undergo alternative pre-mRNA splicing in tissue- or cell-type-specific manners. Recent genome-wide approaches have identified many putative-binding sites for some of tissue-specific trans-acting splicing regulators. However, the mechanisms of splicing regulation in vivo remain largely unknown. To elucidate the modes of splicing regulation by the neuron-specific CELF family RNA-binding protein UNC-75 in Caenorhabditis elegans, we performed deep sequencing of poly(A)+ RNAs from the unc-75(+)- and unc-75-mutant worms and identified more than 20 cassette and mutually exclusive exons repressed or activated by UNC-75. Motif searches revealed that (G/U)UGUUGUG stretches are enriched in the upstream and downstream introns of the UNC-75-repressed and -activated exons, respectively. Recombinant UNC-75 protein specifically binds to RNA fragments carrying the (G/U)UGUUGUG stretches in vitro. Bi-chromatic fluorescence alternative splicing reporters revealed that the UNC-75-target exons are regulated in tissue-specific and (G/U)UGUUGUG element-dependent manners in vivo. The unc-75 mutation affected the splicing reporter expression specifically in the nervous system. These results indicate that UNC-75 regulates alternative splicing of its target exons in neuron-specific and position-dependent manners through the (G/U)UGUUGUG elements in C. elegans. This study thus reveals the repertoire of target events for the CELF family in the living organism.
DMD nonsense and frameshift mutations lead to severe Duchenne muscular dystrophy while in-frame mutations lead to milder Becker muscular dystrophy. Exceptions are found in 10% of cases and the production of alternatively spliced transcripts is considered a key modifier of disease severity. Several exonic mutations have been shown to induce exon-skipping, while splice site mutations result in exon-skipping or activation of cryptic splice sites. However, factors determining the splicing pathway are still unclear. Point mutations provide valuable information regarding the regulation of pre-mRNA splicing and elements defining exon identity in the DMD gene. Here we provide a comprehensive analysis of 98 point mutations related to clinical phenotype and their effect on muscle mRNA and dystrophin expression. Aberrant splicing was found in 27 mutations due to alteration of splice sites or splicing regulatory elements. Bioinformatics analysis was performed to test the ability of the available algorithms to predict consequences on mRNA and to investigate the major factors that determine the splicing pathway in mutations affecting splicing signals. Our findings suggest that the splicing pathway is highly dependent on the interplay between splice site strength and density of regulatory elements.