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1.  The CUGBP2 Splicing Factor Regulates an Ensemble of Branchpoints from Perimeter Binding Sites with Implications for Autoregulation 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(8):e1000595.
Alternative pre-mRNA splicing adjusts the transcriptional output of the genome by generating related mRNAs from a single primary transcript, thereby expanding protein diversity. A fundamental unanswered question is how splicing factors achieve specificity in the selection of target substrates despite the recognition of information-poor sequence motifs. The CUGBP2 splicing regulator plays a key role in the brain region-specific silencing of the NI exon of the NMDA R1 receptor. However, the sequence motifs utilized by this factor for specific target exon selection and its role in splicing silencing are not understood. Here, we use chemical modification footprinting to map the contact sites of CUGBP2 to GU-rich motifs closely positioned at the boundaries of the branch sites of the NI exon, and we demonstrate a mechanistic role for this specific arrangement of motifs for the regulation of branchpoint formation. General support for a branch site-perimeter–binding model is indicated by the identification of a group of novel target exons with a similar configuration of motifs that are silenced by CUGBP2. These results reveal an autoregulatory role for CUGBP2 as indicated by its direct interaction with functionally significant RNA motifs surrounding the branch sites upstream of exon 6 of the CUGBP2 transcript itself. The perimeter-binding model explains how CUGBP2 can effectively embrace the branch site region to achieve the specificity needed for the selection of exon targets and the fine-tuning of alternative splicing patterns.
Author Summary
Alternative splicing is a precisely controlled process that determines whether an exon will be included or skipped in the mature mRNA transcript. Factors that control alternative splicing bind to RNA sequence motifs in the exon or flanking introns and guide tissue and developmental specific splicing events. CUGBP2 is a dual functional regulator of alternative splicing that can cause inclusion or skipping of a target exon, depending on the context of its binding motifs. Previously, the mechanisms of regulation by this protein and the positional significance of its target motifs have not been characterized. In this study, the authors dissected the mechanism of exon skipping by CUGBP2 and demonstrate that a specific configuration of motifs at the perimeters of a functional reference point are intimately involved in this event. Furthermore, this mechanism of regulation is shown to have general significance because novel CUGBP2 target exons contain a similar arrangement of motifs. The most interesting of this group is an exon within the CUGBP2 transcript itself. This study underscores the importance of a functional reference point in the specificity of regulation by an alternative splicing factor and reveals a novel autoregulatory role for CUGBP2.
PMCID: PMC2715136  PMID: 19680430
2.  Structural Insights into RNA Recognition by the Alternate-splicing Regulator CUG Binding Protein 1 
Structure(London, England:1993)  2010;18(10):1364-1377.
CUG binding protein 1 (CUGBP1) regulates multiple aspects of nuclear and cytoplasmic mRNA processing, with implications for onset of myotonic dystrophy. CUGBP1 harbors three RRM domains and preferentially targets UGU-rich mRNA elements. We report on crystal structures of CUGBP1 RRM1 and tandem RRM1/2 domains bound to RNAs containing tandem UGU(U/G) elements. Both RRM1 in RRM1-RNA and RRM2 in RRM1/2-RNA complexes use similar principles to target UGU(U/G) elements, with recognition mediated by face-to-edge stacking and water-mediated hydrogen bonding networks. The UG step adopts a left-handed Z-RNA conformation, with the syn guanine recognized through Hoogsteen edge-protein backbone hydrogen-bonding interactions. NMR studies on the RRM1/2-RNA complex establish that both RRM domains target tandem UGUU motifs in solution, while filter-binding assays identify a preference for recognition of GU over AU or GC steps. We discuss the implications of CUGBP1-mediated targeting and sequestration of UGU(U/G) elements on pre-mRNA alternative-splicing regulation, translational regulation and mRNA decay.
PMCID: PMC3381513  PMID: 20947024
3.  CUGBP2 directly interacts with U2 17S snRNP components and promotes U2 snRNA binding to cardiac troponin T pre-mRNA 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(13):4275-4286.
CUGBP2 (ETR-3/NAPOR/BRUNOL3) promotes inclusion of cardiac troponin T (cTNT) exon 5 via binding between positions 21 and 74 of the downstream intron. The molecular mechanism by which CUGBP2 activates cTNT exon 5 inclusion is unknown. Our results suggest that CUGBP2 promotes exon inclusion by a novel mechanism in which CUGBP2 directly interacts with components of the activated U2 snRNP and enhances binding of U2 snRNP to the branch site located upstream of the exon. Using an in vitro splicing assay, we show that recombinant CUGBP2 enhances complex A formation of a cTNT pre-mRNA. Enhanced complex A assembly requires both the upstream and downstream introns consistent with dual requirements for the downstream CUGBP2-binding site and an upstream branch site for U2 snRNP binding. We also show that CUGBP2 enhances binding of U2 snRNA to the cTNT pre-mRNA consistent with enhanced complex A assembly. Purification of CUGBP2-interacting proteins using tandem affinity purification leads to the demonstration that the core 17S U2 snRNP components, SF3b145 and SF3b49 bind directly to CUGBP2. We conclude that CUGBP2 activates exon inclusion by forming direct interactions with components of the 17S snRNP complex and recruits and/or stabilizes binding of U2 snRNP.
PMCID: PMC2715230  PMID: 19443441
4.  miR-503 represses CUG-binding protein 1 translation by recruiting CUGBP1 mRNA to processing bodies 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2012;23(1):151-162.
This study shows that microRNA-503 interacts with the CUG-binding protein 1 (CUGBP1) mRNA and represses its translation by recruiting the CUGBP1 mRNA to processing bodies.
microRNAs (miRNAs) and RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) jointly regulate gene expression at the posttranscriptional level and are involved in many aspects of cellular functions. The RBP CUG-binding protein 1 (CUGBP1) destabilizes and represses the translation of several target mRNAs, but the exact mechanism that regulates CUGBP1 abundance remains elusive. In this paper, we show that miR-503, computationally predicted to associate with three sites of the CUGBP1 mRNA, represses CUGBP1 expression. Overexpression of an miR-503 precursor (pre-miR-503) reduced the de novo synthesis of CUGBP1 protein, whereas inhibiting miR-503 by using an antisense RNA (antagomir) enhanced CUGBP1 biosynthesis and elevated its abundance; neither intervention changed total CUGBP1 mRNA levels. Studies using heterologous reporter constructs revealed a greater repressive effect of miR-503 through the CUGBP1 coding region sites than through the single CUGBP1 3′-untranslated region target site. CUGBP1 mRNA levels in processing bodies (P-bodies) increased in cells transfected with pre-miR-503, while silencing P-body resident proteins Ago2, RCK, or LSm4 decreased miR-503–mediated repression of CUGBP1 expression. Decreasing the levels of cellular polyamines reduced endogenous miR-503 levels and promoted CUGBP1 expression, an effect that was prevented by ectopic miR-503 overexpression. Repression of CUGBP1 by miR-503 in turn altered the expression of CUGBP1 target mRNAs and thus increased the sensitivity of intestinal epithelial cells to apoptosis. These findings identify miR-503 as both a novel regulator of CUGBP1 expression and a modulator of intestinal epithelial homoeostasis.
PMCID: PMC3248894  PMID: 22072795
5.  CUGBP1 and MBNL1 preferentially bind to 3′ UTRs and facilitate mRNA decay 
Scientific Reports  2012;2:209.
CUGBP1 and MBNL1 are developmentally regulated RNA-binding proteins that are causally associated with myotonic dystrophy type 1. We globally determined the in vivo RNA-binding sites of CUGBP1 and MBNL1. Interestingly, CUGBP1 and MBNL1 are both preferentially bound to 3′ UTRs. Analysis of CUGBP1- and MBNL1-bound 3′ UTRs demonstrated that both factors mediate accelerated mRNA decay and temporal profiles of expression arrays supported this. Role of CUGBP1 on accelerated mRNA decay has been previously reported, but the similar function of MBNL1 has not been reported to date. It is well established that CUGBP1 and MBNL1 regulate alternative splicing. Screening by exon array and validation by RT-PCR revealed position dependence of CUGBP1- and MBNL1-binding sites on the resulting alternative splicing pattern. This study suggests that regulation of CUGBP1 and MBNL1 is essential for accurate control of destabilization of a broad spectrum of mRNAs as well as of alternative splicing events.
PMCID: PMC3250574  PMID: 22355723
6.  Sequence determinants for the tandem recognition of UGU and CUG rich RNA elements by the two N—terminal RRMs of CELF1 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(19):8638-8650.
CUGBP, Elav-like family member 1 (CELF1) is an RNA binding protein with important roles in the regulation of splicing, mRNA decay and translation. CELF1 contains three RNA recognition motifs (RRMs). We used gel retardation, gel filtration, isothermal titration calorimetry and NMR titration studies to investigate the recognition of RNA by the first two RRMs of CELF1. NMR shows that RRM1 is promiscuous in binding to both UGU and CUG repeat sequences with comparable chemical shift perturbations. In contrast, RRM2 shows greater selectivity for UGUU rather than CUG motifs. A construct (T187) containing both binding domains (RRM1 and RRM2) was systematically studied for interaction with tandem UGU RNA binding sites with different length linker sequences UGU(U)xUGU where x = 1–7. A single U spacer results in interactions only with RRM1, demonstrating both steric constraints in accommodating both RRMs simultaneously at adjacent sites, and also subtle differences in binding affinities between RRMs. However, high affinity co-operative binding (Kd ~ 0.4 µM) is evident for RNA sequences with x = 2–4, but longer spacers (x ≥ 5) lead to a 10-fold reduction in affinity. Our analysis rationalizes the high affinity interaction of T187 with the 11mer GRE consensus regulatory sequence UGUUUGUUUGU and has significant consequences for the prediction of CELF1 binding sites.
PMCID: PMC3201864  PMID: 21743084
7.  Heart-specific overexpression of CUGBP1 reproduces functional and molecular abnormalities of myotonic dystrophy type 1 
Human Molecular Genetics  2010;19(6):1066-1075.
Myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) is caused by a CTG expansion within the 3′-untranslated region of the DMPK gene. The predominant mechanism of pathogenesis is a toxic gain of function of CUG repeat containing RNA transcribed from the expanded allele. The molecular mechanisms by which the RNA containing expanded repeats produce pathogenic effects include: sequestration of muscleblind-like 1 (MBNL1) protein and up-regulation of CUG binding protein 1 (CUGBP1). MBNL1 and CUGBP1 are RNA binding proteins that regulate alternative splicing transitions during development. Altered functions of these proteins in DM1 lead to misregulated splicing of their target genes, resulting in several features of the disease. The role of MBNL1 depletion in DM1 is well established through a mouse knock-out model that reproduces many disease features. Here we directly test the hypothesis that CUGBP1 up-regulation also contributes to manifestations of DM1. Using tetracycline-inducible CUGBP1 and heart-specific reverse tetracycline trans-activator transgenes, we expressed human CUGBP1 in adult mouse heart. Our results demonstrate that up-regulation of CUGBP1 is sufficient to reproduce molecular, histopathological and functional changes observed in a previously described DM1 mouse model that expresses expanded CUG RNA repeats as well as in individuals with DM1. These results strongly support a role for CUGBP1 up-regulation in DM1 pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2830830  PMID: 20051426
8.  RNA Gain-of-Function in Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 8 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(8):e1000600.
Microsatellite expansions cause a number of dominantly-inherited neurological diseases. Expansions in coding-regions cause protein gain-of-function effects, while non-coding expansions produce toxic RNAs that alter RNA splicing activities of MBNL and CELF proteins. Bi-directional expression of the spinocerebellar ataxia type 8 (SCA8) CTG CAG expansion produces CUG expansion RNAs (CUGexp) from the ATXN8OS gene and a nearly pure polyglutamine expansion protein encoded by ATXN8 CAGexp transcripts expressed in the opposite direction. Here, we present three lines of evidence that RNA gain-of-function plays a significant role in SCA8: 1) CUGexp transcripts accumulate as ribonuclear inclusions that co-localize with MBNL1 in selected neurons in the brain; 2) loss of Mbnl1 enhances motor deficits in SCA8 mice; 3) SCA8 CUGexp transcripts trigger splicing changes and increased expression of the CUGBP1-MBNL1 regulated CNS target, GABA-A transporter 4 (GAT4/Gabt4). In vivo optical imaging studies in SCA8 mice confirm that Gabt4 upregulation is associated with the predicted loss of GABAergic inhibition within the granular cell layer. These data demonstrate that CUGexp transcripts dysregulate MBNL/CELF regulated pathways in the brain and provide mechanistic insight into the CNS effects of other CUGexp disorders. Moreover, our demonstration that relatively short CUGexp transcripts cause RNA gain-of-function effects and the growing number of antisense transcripts recently reported in mammalian genomes suggest unrecognized toxic RNAs contribute to the pathophysiology of polyglutamine CAG CTG disorders.
Author Summary
We describe several lines of evidence that RNA gain-of-function effects play a significant role in spinocerebellar ataxia type 8 (SCA8) and has broader implications for understanding the CNS effects of other trinucleotide expansion disorders including myotonic dystrophy type 1, Huntington disease like-2, and spinocerebellar ataxia type 7. The SCA8 mutation is bidirectionally transcribed resulting in the expression of CUGexp transcripts from ATXN8OS and CAGexp transcripts and polyglutamine protein from the overlapping ATXN8 gene. These data suggest that SCA8 pathogenesis involves toxic gain-of-function effects at the RNA (CUGexp) and/or protein (PolyQ) levels. We present three lines of evidence that CUGexp transcripts play a significant role in SCA8: 1) CUGexp transcripts accumulate as ribonuclear inclusions that co-localize with MBNL1 in selected neurons; 2) loss of Mbnl1 enhances motor deficits in SCA8 mice; 3) SCA8 CUGexp transcripts trigger alternative splicing changes and increased expression of the CUGBP1-MBNL1 regulated CNS target, GABA-A transporter 4 (GAT4/Gabt4) which is associated with the predicted loss of GABAergic inhibition within the granular cell layer in SCA8 mice. Additionally, alternative splicing changes and GAT4 upregulation are induced by CUGexp but not CAGexp transcripts. From a therapeutic viewpoint, it is promising that this change is reversed in cells overexpressing MBNL1.
PMCID: PMC2719092  PMID: 19680539
9.  Competitive binding of CUGBP1 and HuR to occludin mRNA controls its translation and modulates epithelial barrier function 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2013;24(2):85-99.
The present study shows that RNA-binding proteins CUGBP1 and HuR jointly regulate the translation of occludin and play a crucial role in the maintenance of tight junction integrity.
RNA-binding proteins CUG-binding protein 1 (CUGBP1) and HuR are highly expressed in epithelial tissues and modulate the stability and translation of target mRNAs. Here we present evidence that CUGBP1 and HuR jointly regulate the translation of occludin and play a crucial role in the maintenance of tight junction (TJ) integrity in the intestinal epithelial cell monolayer. CUGBP1 and HuR competed for association with the same occludin 3′-untranslated region element and regulated occludin translation competitively and in opposite directions. CUGBP1 overexpression decreased HuR binding to occludin mRNA, repressed occludin translation, and compromised the TJ barrier function, whereas HuR overexpression inhibited CUGBP1 association with occludin mRNA and promoted occludin translation, thereby enhancing the barrier integrity. Repression of occludin translation by CUGBP1 was due to the colocalization of CUGBP1 and tagged occludin RNA in processing bodies (P-bodies), and this colocalization was prevented by HuR overexpression. These findings indicate that CUGBP1 represses occludin translation by increasing occludin mRNA recruitment to P-bodies, whereas HuR promotes occludin translation by blocking occludin mRNA translocation to P-bodies via the displacement of CUGBP1.
PMCID: PMC3541967  PMID: 23155001
10.  CUG repeat binding protein (CUGBP1) interacts with the 5' region of C/EBPbeta mRNA and regulates translation of C/EBPbeta isoforms. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1999;27(22):4517-4525.
The transcription factor CCAAT/enhancer binding protein beta, C/EBPbeta, plays a significant role in the regulation of hepatocyte growth and differentiation. A single mRNA coding for C/EBPbeta produces several protein isoforms. Two pathways for generation of low molecular weight C/EBPbeta isoforms have been described: specific proteolytic cleavage and initiation of translation from different AUG codons of C/EBPbeta mRNA. A truncated C/EBPbeta isoform, LIP, is induced in rat livers in response to partial hepatectomy (PH) via the alternative translation mechanism. Here we present evidence that CUG repeat binding protein, CUGBP1, interacts with the 5' region of C/EBPbeta mRNA and regulates translation of C/EBPbeta isoforms. Two binding sites for CUGBP1 are located side by side between the first and second AUG codons of C/EBPbeta mRNA. One binding site is observed in an out of frame short open reading frame (sORF) that has been previously shown to regulate initiation of translation from different AUG codons of C/EBPbeta mRNA. Analysis of cytoplasmic and polysomal proteins from rat liver after PH showed that CUGBP1 is associated with polysomes that translate low molecular weight isoforms of C/EBPbeta. The binding activity of CUGBP1 to the 5' region of C/EBPbeta mRNA shows increased association with these polysomal fractions after PH. Addition of CUGBP1 into a cell-free translation system leads to increased translation of low molecular weight isoforms of C/EBPbeta. Our data demonstrate that CUGBP1 protein is an important component for the regulation of initiation from different AUG codons of C/EBPbeta mRNA.
PMCID: PMC148737  PMID: 10536163
11.  Inactivation of CUG-BP1/CELF1 Causes Growth, Viability, and Spermatogenesis Defects in Mice▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2006;27(3):1146-1157.
CUG-BP1/CELF1 is a multifunctional RNA-binding protein involved in the regulation of alternative splicing and translation. To elucidate its role in mammalian development, we produced mice in which the Cugbp1 gene was inactivated by homologous recombination. These Cugbp1−/− mice were viable, although a significant portion of them did not survive after the first few days of life. They displayed growth retardation, and most Cugbp1−/− males and females exhibited impaired fertility. Male infertility was more thoroughly investigated. Histological examination of testes from Cugbp1−/− males showed an arrest of spermatogenesis that occurred at step 7 of spermiogenesis, before spermatid elongation begins, and an increased apoptosis. A quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR analysis showed a decrease of all the germ cell markers tested but not of Sertoli and Leydig markers, suggesting a general decrease in germ cell number. In wild-type testes, CUG-BP1 is expressed in germ cells from spermatogonia to round spermatids and also in Sertoli and Leydig cells. These findings demonstrate that CUG-BP1 is required for completion of spermatogenesis.
PMCID: PMC1800704  PMID: 17130239
12.  Elevation of RNA-binding protein CUGBP1 is an early event in an inducible heart-specific mouse model of myotonic dystrophy 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2007;117(10):2802-2811.
Myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) is caused by a CTG trinucleotide expansion in the 3′ untranslated region (3′ UTR) of DM protein kinase (DMPK). The key feature of DM1 pathogenesis is nuclear accumulation of RNA, which causes aberrant alternative splicing of specific pre-mRNAs by altering the functions of CUG-binding proteins (CUGBPs). Cardiac involvement occurs in more than 80% of individuals with DM1 and is responsible for up to 30% of disease-related deaths. We have generated an inducible and heart-specific DM1 mouse model expressing expanded CUG RNA in the context of DMPK 3′ UTR that recapitulated pathological and molecular features of DM1 including dilated cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, systolic and diastolic dysfunction, and misregulated alternative splicing. Combined in situ hybridization and immunofluorescent staining for CUGBP1 and CUGBP2, the 2 CUGBP1 and ETR-3 like factor (CELF) proteins expressed in heart, demonstrated elevated protein levels specifically in nuclei containing foci of CUG repeat RNA. A time-course study demonstrated that colocalization of MBNL1 with RNA foci and increased CUGBP1 occurred within hours of induced expression of CUG repeat RNA and coincided with reversion to embryonic splicing patterns. These results indicate that CUGBP1 upregulation is an early and primary response to expression of CUG repeat RNA.
PMCID: PMC1964514  PMID: 17823658
13.  Bcl-x pre-mRNA Splicing Regulates Brain injury after Neonatal Hypoxia-Ischemia 
The bcl-x gene appears to play a critical role in regulating apoptosis in the developing and mature central nervous system (CNS) and following CNS injury. Two isoforms of Bcl-x are produced as a result of alternative pre-mRNA splicing: Bcl-xL (the long form) is anti-apoptotic, while Bcl-xS (short form) is pro-apoptotic. Despite the antagonistic activities of these two isoforms, little is known about how regulation of alternative splicing of bcl-x may mediate neural cell apoptosis. Here, we report that apoptotic stimuli (staurosporine or C2-ceramide) reciprocally altered Bcl-x splicing in neural cells, decreasing Bcl-xL while increasing Bcl-xS. Specific knockdown of Bcl-xS attenuated apoptosis. In order to further define regulatory elements that influenced Bcl-x splicing, a Bcl-x minigene was constructed. Deletional analysis revealed several consensus sequences within intron 2 that altered splicing. We found that the splicing factor, CUG-binding-protein-1 (CUGBP1), bound to a consensus sequence close to the Bcl-xL 5′ splice site, altering the Bcl-xL/Bcl-xS ratio and influencing cell death. In vivo, neonatal hypoxia-ischemia reciprocally altered Bcl-x pre-mRNA splicing, similar to the in vitro studies. Manipulation of the splice isoforms using viral gene transfer of Bcl-xS shRNA into the hippocampus of rats prior to neonatal hypoxia-ischemia decreased vulnerability to injury. Moreover, alterations in nuclear CUGBP1 preceded Bcl-x splicing changes. These results suggest that alternative pre-mRNA splicing may be an important regulatory mechanism for cell death after acute neurological injury, and may potentially provide novel targets for intervention.
PMCID: PMC3482490  PMID: 23015448
14.  RNA Binding Protein CUGBP2/CELF2 Mediates Curcumin-Induced Mitotic Catastrophe of Pancreatic Cancer Cells 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e16958.
Curcumin inhibits the growth of pancreatic cancer tumor xenografts in nude mice; however, the mechanism of action is not well understood. It is becoming increasingly clear that RNA binding proteins regulate posttranscriptional gene expression and play a critical role in RNA stability and translation. Here, we have determined that curcumin modulates the expression of RNA binding protein CUGBP2 to inhibit pancreatic cancer growth.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In this study, we show that curcumin treated tumor xenografts have a significant reduction in tumor volume and angiogenesis. Curcumin inhibited the proliferation, while inducing G2-M arrest and apoptosis resulting in mitotic catastrophe of various pancreatic cancer cells. This was further confirmed by increased phosphorylation of checkpoint kinase 2 (Chk2) protein coupled with higher levels of nuclear cyclin B1 and Cdc-2. Curcumin increased the expression of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) mRNA, but protein levels were lower. Furthermore, curcumin increased the expression of RNA binding proteins CUGBP2/CELF2 and TIA-1. CUGBP2 binding to COX-2 and VEGF mRNA was also enhanced, thereby increasing mRNA stability, the half-life changing from 30 min to 8 h. On the other hand, silencer-mediated knockdown of CUGBP2 partially restored the expression of COX-2 and VEGF even with curcumin treatment. COX-2 and VEGF mRNA levels were reduced to control levels, while proteins levels were higher.
Curcumin inhibits pancreatic tumor growth through mitotic catastrophe by increasing the expression of RNA binding protein CUGBP2, thereby inhibiting the translation of COX-2 and VEGF mRNA. These data suggest that translation inhibition is a novel mechanism of action for curcumin during the therapeutic intervention of pancreatic cancers.
PMCID: PMC3037932  PMID: 21347286
15.  ETR-3 and CELF4 protein domains required for RNA binding and splicing activity in vivo 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(3):1232-1241.
Members of the CUG-BP and ETR-3 like factor (CELF) protein family bind within conserved intronic elements (called MSEs) flanking the cardiac troponin T (cTNT) alternative exon 5 and promote exon inclusion in vivo and in vitro. Here we use a comparative deletion analysis of two family members (ETR-3 and CELF4) to identify separate domains required for RNA binding and splicing activity in vivo. CELF proteins contain two adjacent RNA binding domains (RRM1 and RRM2) near the N-terminus and one RRM (RRM3) near the C-terminus, which are separated by a 160–230 residue divergent domain of unknown function. Either RRM1 or RRM2 of CELF4 are necessary and sufficient for binding MSE RNA and RRM2 plus an additional 66 amino acids of the divergent domain are as effective as full-length protein in activating MSE-dependent splicing in vivo. Non-overlapping N- and C-terminal regions of ETR-3 containing either RRM1 and RRM2 or RRM3 plus segments of the adjacent divergent domain activate MSE-dependent exon inclusion demonstrating an unusual functional redundancy of the N- and C-termini of the protein. These results identify specific regions of ETR-3 and CELF4 that are likely targets of protein–protein interactions required for splicing activation.
PMCID: PMC373409  PMID: 14973222
16.  The expression analysis of Sfrs10 and Celf4 during mouse retinal development 
Gene expression patterns : GEP  2013;13(8):10.1016/j.gep.2013.07.009.
Processing of mRNAs including, alternative splicing (AS), mRNA transport and translation regulation are crucial to eukaryotic gene expression. For example, >90% of the gene in the human genome are known to undergo alternative splicing thereby expanding the proteome production capacity of a limited number of genes. Similarly, mRNA export and translation regulation plays a vital role in regulating protein production. Thus, it is important to understand how these RNA binding proteins including alternative splicing factors (ASFs) and mRNA transport and translation factors regulate these processes. Here we report the expression of an ASF, Serine-arginine rich splicing factor 10 (Sfrs10) and a mRNA translation regulation factor, CUGBP, elav like family member 4 (Celf4) in the developing mouse retina. Sfrs10 was expressed throughout postnatal (P) retinal development and was observed progressively in newly differentiating neurons. Immunofluorescence (IF) showed Sfrs10 in retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) at P0, followed by amacrine and bipolar cells, and at P8 it was enriched in red/green cone photoreceptor cells. By P22, Sfrs10 was observed in rod photoreceptors in a peri-nuclear pattern. Like Sfrs10, Celf4 was also observed in the developing retina, but with two distinct retinal isoforms. In situ hybridization (ISH) showed progressive expression of Celf4 in differentiating neurons, which was confirmed by IF that showed a dynamic shift in Celf4 localization. Early in development Celf4 expression was restricted to the nuclei of newly differentiating RGCs and later (E16 onwards) it was observed in the initial segments of RGC axons. Later, during postnatal development, Celf4 was observed in amacrine and bipolar cells, but here it was predominantly cytoplasmic and enriched in the two synaptic layers. Specifically, at P14, Celf4 was observed in the synaptic boutons of rod bipolar cells marked by Pkc-α. Thus, Celf4 might be regulating AS early in development besides its known role of regulating mRNA localization/translation. In all, our data suggests an important role for AS and mRNA localization/translation in retinal neuron differentiation.
PMCID: PMC3825781  PMID: 23932931
17.  Systematic Analysis of Cis-Elements in Unstable mRNAs Demonstrates that CUGBP1 Is a Key Regulator of mRNA Decay in Muscle Cells 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(6):e11201.
Dramatic changes in gene expression occur in response to extracellular stimuli and during differentiation. Although transcriptional effects are important, alterations in mRNA decay also play a major role in achieving rapid and massive changes in mRNA abundance. Moreover, just as transcription factor activity varies between different cell types, the factors influencing mRNA decay are also cell-type specific.
Principal Findings
We have established the rates of decay for over 7000 transcripts expressed in mouse C2C12 myoblasts. We found that GU-rich (GRE) and AU-rich (ARE) elements are over-represented in the 3′UTRs of short-lived mRNAs and that these mRNAs tend to encode factors involved in cell cycle and transcription regulation. Stabilizing elements were also identified. By comparing mRNA decay rates in C2C12 cells with those previously measured for pluripotent and differentiating embryonic stem (ES) cells, we identified several groups of transcripts that exhibit cell-type specific decay rates. Further, whereas in C2C12 cells the impact of GREs on mRNA decay appears to be greater than that of AREs, AREs are more significant in ES cells, supporting the idea that cis elements make a cell-specific contribution to mRNA stability. GREs are recognized by CUGBP1, an RNA-binding protein and instability factor whose function is affected in several neuromuscular diseases. We therefore utilized RNA immunoprecipitation followed by microarray (RIP-Chip) to identify CUGBP1-associated transcripts. These mRNAs also showed dramatic enrichment of GREs in their 3′UTRs and encode proteins linked with cell cycle, and intracellular transport. Interestingly several CUGBP1 substrate mRNAs, including those encoding the myogenic transcription factors Myod1 and Myog, are also bound by the stabilizing factor HuR in C2C12 cells. Finally, we show that several CUGBP1-associated mRNAs containing 3′UTR GREs, including Myod1, are stabilized in cells depleted of CUGBP1, consistent with the role of CUGBP1 as a destabilizing factor.
Taken together, our results systematically establish cis-acting determinants of mRNA decay rates in C2C12 myoblast cells and demonstrate that CUGBP1 associates with GREs to regulate decay of a wide range of mRNAs including several that are critical for muscle development.
PMCID: PMC2888570  PMID: 20574513
18.  Alternative splicing misregulation secondary to skeletal muscle regeneration 
Annals of neurology  2011;69(4):681-690.
Misregulation of alternative splicing has become a molecular hallmark of myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) in which neonatal splice variants are expressed in adult skeletal muscle. Splicing misregulation is induced by RNA containing expanded CUG repeats expressed from the expanded mutant allele by sequestration of Muscleblind-like 1 (MBNL1) protein within nuclear RNA foci and increased CUGBP, Elav-like family member 1 (CELF1) protein levels. Misregulated splicing has also been identified in other neuromuscular disorders suggesting either that diseases with different molecular causes share a common pathogenic mechanism or that misregulated splicing can also be a common secondary consequence of muscle degeneration and regeneration.
In this study we examined regulation of alternative splicing in four different mouse models of muscular dystrophy including DM1, limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, congenital merosin-deficient muscular dystrophy, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and two myotoxin (cardiotoxin and notexin) muscle injury models.
We show that DM1-like alternative splicing misregulation and altered expression of MBNL1 and CELF1 occurs in non-DM1 mouse models of muscular dystrophy and muscle injury, most likely due to recapitulation of neonatal splicing patterns in regenerating fibers. In contrast, CELF1 was elevated in nuclei of mature myofibers of the DM1 model consistent with a primary effect of pathogenic RNA expression.
Splicing misregulation in DM1 is a primary effect of RNA containing expanded CUG repeats. However, we conclude that splicing changes can also be observed secondary to muscle regeneration and this possibility must be taken into account when evaluating cause-effect relationships between misregulated splicing and disease processes.
PMCID: PMC3082633  PMID: 21400563
19.  Muscle weakness in myotonic dystrophy associated with misregulated splicing and altered gating of CaV1.1 calcium channel 
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;21(6):1312-1324.
Myotonic dystrophy type 1 and type 2 (DM1 and DM2) are genetic diseases in which mutant transcripts containing expanded CUG or CCUG repeats cause cellular dysfunction by altering the processing or metabolism of specific mRNAs and miRNAs. The toxic effects of mutant RNA are mediated partly through effects on proteins that regulate alternative splicing. Here we show that alternative splicing of exon 29 (E29) of CaV1.1, a calcium channel that controls skeletal muscle excitation–contraction coupling, is markedly repressed in DM1 and DM2. The extent of E29 skipping correlated with severity of weakness in tibialis anterior muscle of DM1 patients. Two splicing factors previously implicated in DM1, MBNL1 and CUGBP1, participated in the regulation of E29 splicing. In muscle fibers of wild-type mice, the CaV1.1 channel conductance and voltage sensitivity were increased by splice-shifting oligonucleotides that induce E29 skipping. In contrast to human DM1, expression of CUG-expanded RNA caused only a modest increase in E29 skipping in mice. However, forced skipping of E29 in these mice, to levels approaching those observed in human DM1, aggravated the muscle pathology as evidenced by increased central nucleation. Together, these results indicate that DM-associated splicing defects alter CaV1.1 function, with potential for exacerbation of myopathy.
PMCID: PMC3284119  PMID: 22140091
20.  Depolarization and CaM Kinase IV Modulate NMDA Receptor Splicing through Two Essential RNA Elements 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(2):e40.
Alternative splicing controls the activity of many proteins important for neuronal excitation, but the signal-transduction pathways that affect spliced isoform expression are not well understood. One particularly interesting system of alternative splicing is exon 21 (E21) of the NMDA receptor 1 (NMDAR1 E21), which controls the trafficking of NMDA receptors to the plasma membrane and is repressed by Ca++/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase (CaMK) IV signaling. Here, we characterize the splicing of NMDAR1 E21. We find that E21 splicing is reversibly repressed by neuronal depolarization, and we identify two RNA elements within the exon that function together to mediate the inducible repression. One of these exonic elements is similar to an intronic CaMK IV–responsive RNA element (CaRRE) originally identified in the 3′ splice site of the BK channel STREX exon, but not previously observed within an exon. The other element is a new RNA motif. Introduction of either of these two motifs, called CaRRE type 1 and CaRRE type 2, into a heterologous constitutive exon can confer CaMK IV–dependent repression on the new exon. Thus, either exonic CaRRE can be sufficient for CaMK IV–induced repression. Single nucleotide scanning mutagenesis defined consensus sequences for these two CaRRE motifs. A genome-wide motif search and subsequent RT-PCR validation identified a group of depolarization-regulated alternative exons carrying CaRRE consensus sequences. Many of these exons are likely to alter neuronal function. Thus, these two RNA elements define a group of co-regulated splicing events that respond to a common stimulus in neurons to alter their activity.
Alternative splicing of NMDA receptor 1 exon 21 is reversibly repressed by depolarization in a CaMK IV-dependent manner in neurons. This suggests splicing is finely tuned by dynamic activity inputs.
Author Summary
Multiple mechanisms direct changes in neuronal activity in response to external stimuli, ranging from short-acting modifications of membrane proteins to longer-acting changes in gene expression. A frequently regulated step in gene expression is the pre-mRNA splicing reaction in which the inclusion of exons (protein-coding sequences) or the position of splice sites produces alternatively spliced mRNA isoforms encoding functionally different proteins. Here, we study splicing of the NMDA receptor, which responds to the neurotransmitter glutamate to modify neuronal activity. We show that the splicing of an important exon (E21) in the NMDA receptor subunit NR1 mRNA is repressed by cell depolarization and activation of the intracellular signaling molecule, CaMK IV. We find that this splicing repression is mediated by two regulatory sequences within the exon itself. One sequence is similar to a previously described regulatory element that had not been known to function in an exon. The other is a new element. The characterization of these elements as a family of degenerate sequences allowed the identification of a group of exons sharing responsiveness to cell depolarization and CamK IV. These results define a new set of gene expression changes that may occur in modulating neuronal activity.
PMCID: PMC1790950  PMID: 17298178
21.  Exon Silencing by UAGG Motifs in Response to Neuronal Excitation 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(2):e36.
Alternative pre-mRNA splicing plays fundamental roles in neurons by generating functional diversity in proteins associated with the communication and connectivity of the synapse. The CI cassette of the NMDA R1 receptor is one of a variety of exons that show an increase in exon skipping in response to cell excitation, but the molecular nature of this splicing responsiveness is not yet understood. Here we investigate the molecular basis for the induced changes in splicing of the CI cassette exon in primary rat cortical cultures in response to KCl-induced depolarization using an expression assay with a tight neuron-specific readout. In this system, exon silencing in response to neuronal excitation was mediated by multiple UAGG-type silencing motifs, and transfer of the motifs to a constitutive exon conferred a similar responsiveness by gain of function. Biochemical analysis of protein binding to UAGG motifs in extracts prepared from treated and mock-treated cortical cultures showed an increase in nuclear hnRNP A1-RNA binding activity in parallel with excitation. Evidence for the role of the NMDA receptor and calcium signaling in the induced splicing response was shown by the use of specific antagonists, as well as cell-permeable inhibitors of signaling pathways. Finally, a wider role for exon-skipping responsiveness is shown to involve additional exons with UAGG-related silencing motifs, and transcripts involved in synaptic functions. These results suggest that, at the post-transcriptional level, excitable exons such as the CI cassette may be involved in strategies by which neurons mount adaptive responses to hyperstimulation.
Exon skipping of NMDA R1 receptor exon 21 (CI cassette) is mediated by UAGG-type silencing motifs, presenting a mechanism by which external stimuli communicate to the nuclear splicing machinery in neurons.
Author Summary
The modular features of a protein's architecture are regulated after transcription by the process of alternative pre-mRNA splicing. Conditions that excite or stress neurons can induce changes in some splicing patterns, suggesting that cellular pathways can take advantage of the flexibility of splicing to tune their protein activities for adaptation or survival. Although the phenomenon of the inducible splicing switch (or inducible exon) is well documented, the molecular underpinnings of these curious changes have remained mysterious.
We describe methods to study how the glutamate NMDA receptor, which is a fundamental component of interneuronal signaling and plasticity, undergoes an inducible switch in its splicing pattern in primary neurons. This splicing switch promotes the skipping of an exon that encodes the CI cassette protein module, which is thought to communicate signals from the membrane to the cell nucleus during neuronal activity. We show that this induced splicing event is regulated in neurons by a three-part (UAGG-type) sequence code for exon silencing, and demonstrate a wider role for exon-skipping responsiveness in transcripts with known synaptic functions that also harbor a similar sequence code.
PMCID: PMC1790952  PMID: 17298175
22.  Alternative Splicing Regulation During C. elegans Development: Splicing Factors as Regulated Targets 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(2):e1000001.
Alternative splicing generates protein diversity and allows for post-transcriptional gene regulation. Estimates suggest that 10% of the genes in Caenorhabditis elegans undergo alternative splicing. We constructed a splicing-sensitive microarray to detect alternative splicing for 352 cassette exons and tested for changes in alternative splicing of these genes during development. We found that the microarray data predicted that 62/352 (∼18%) of the alternative splicing events studied show a strong change in the relative levels of the spliced isoforms (>4-fold) during development. Confirmation of the microarray data by RT-PCR was obtained for 70% of randomly selected genes tested. Among the genes with the most developmentally regulated alternatively splicing was the hnRNP F/H splicing factor homolog, W02D3.11 – now named hrpf-1. For the cassette exon of hrpf-1, the inclusion isoform comprises 65% of hrpf-1 steady state messages in embryos but only 0.1% in the first larval stage. This dramatic change in the alternative splicing of an alternative splicing factor suggests a complex cascade of splicing regulation during development. We analyzed splicing in embryos from a strain with a mutation in the splicing factor sym-2, another hnRNP F/H homolog. We found that approximately half of the genes with large alternative splicing changes between the embryo and L1 stages are regulated by sym-2 in embryos. An analysis of the role of nonsense-mediated decay in regulating steady-state alternative mRNA isoforms was performed. We found that 8% of the 352 events studied have alternative isoforms whose relative steady-state levels in embryos change more than 4-fold in a nonsense-mediated decay mutant, including hrpf-1. Strikingly, 53% of these alternative splicing events that are affected by NMD in our experiment are not obvious substrates for NMD based on the presence of premature termination codons. This suggests that the targeting of splicing factors by NMD may have downstream effects on alternative splicing regulation.
Author Summary
Alternative splicing is a mechanism for generating more than one messenger RNA from a given gene. The alternative transcripts can encode different proteins that share some regions in common but have modified functions, thus increasing the number of proteins encoded by the genome. Alternative splicing can also lead to the production of mRNA isoforms that are then subject to degradation by the nonsense-mediated decay pathway, thus providing a mechanism to down-regulate gene expression without decreasing transcription. Examples of cell type-specific, hormone-responsive, and developmentally-regulated alternative splicing have been described. We decided to measure the extent of developmentally regulated alternative splicing in the nematode model organism Caenorhabditis elegans. We developed a DNA microarray that can measure the alternative splicing of 352 cassette exons simultaneously and used it to probe alternative splicing in RNA extracted from embryos, the four larval stages, and adults. We show that 18% of the alternatively spliced genes tested show >4-fold changes in alternative splicing during development. In addition, we show that one of the most regulated genes is itself a splicing factor, providing support for a model in which a cascade of alternative splicing regulation occurs during development.
PMCID: PMC2265522  PMID: 18454200
23.  Smaug/SAMD4A Restores Translational Activity of CUGBP1 and Suppresses CUG-Induced Myopathy 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(4):e1003445.
We report the identification and characterization of a previously unknown suppressor of myopathy caused by expansion of CUG repeats, the mutation that triggers Myotonic Dystrophy Type 1 (DM1). We screened a collection of genes encoding RNA–binding proteins as candidates to modify DM1 pathogenesis using a well established Drosophila model of the disease. The screen revealed smaug as a powerful modulator of CUG-induced toxicity. Increasing smaug levels prevents muscle wasting and restores muscle function, while reducing its function exacerbates CUG-induced phenotypes. Using human myoblasts, we show physical interactions between human Smaug (SMAUG1/SMAD4A) and CUGBP1. Increased levels of SMAUG1 correct the abnormally high nuclear accumulation of CUGBP1 in myoblasts from DM1 patients. In addition, augmenting SMAUG1 levels leads to a reduction of inactive CUGBP1-eIF2α translational complexes and to a correction of translation of MRG15, a downstream target of CUGBP1. Therefore, Smaug suppresses CUG-mediated muscle wasting at least in part via restoration of translational activity of CUGBP1.
Author Summary
Myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) is the most common among the muscular dystrophies causing muscle weakness and wasting in adults, and it is triggered by expansion of an untranslated CUG repeat. To identify potential therapeutic approaches, we used a Drosophila DM1 model to screen for genes capable of suppressing CUG-induced toxicity. Here we report that increased levels of the smaug gene prevent muscle wasting and, perhaps more impressively, also prevent muscle dysfunction caused by the DM1 mutation. Smaug interacts genetically and physically with CUGBP1, an RNA–binding protein previously implicated in DM1. We used myoblasts from DM1 patients and control individuals to investigate how Smaug suppresses CUG-induced myopathy. We found that increased human SMAUG1 (a.k.a. SMAD4A) levels revert the abnormal accumulation of CUGBP1 in myoblasts nuclei and restore normal translation of at least one mRNA regulated by CUGBP1 in the cytoplasm. These findings demonstrate that manipulating Smaug activity protects against the effects of the DM1 mutation, and they also support the idea that restoring normal CUGBP1 function is a potential therapeutic approach.
PMCID: PMC3630084  PMID: 23637619
24.  Alternative Splicing of RNA Triplets Is Often Regulated and Accelerates Proteome Evolution 
PLoS Biology  2012;10(1):e1001229.
Inclusion or exclusion of single codons at the splice acceptor site of mammalian genes is regulated in a tissue-specific manner, is strongly conserved, and is associated with local accelerated protein evolution.
Thousands of human genes contain introns ending in NAGNAG (N any nucleotide), where both NAGs can function as 3′ splice sites, yielding isoforms that differ by inclusion/exclusion of three bases. However, few models exist for how such splicing might be regulated, and some studies have concluded that NAGNAG splicing is purely stochastic and nonfunctional. Here, we used deep RNA-Seq data from 16 human and eight mouse tissues to analyze the regulation and evolution of NAGNAG splicing. Using both biological and technical replicates to estimate false discovery rates, we estimate that at least 25% of alternatively spliced NAGNAGs undergo tissue-specific regulation in mammals, and alternative splicing of strongly tissue-specific NAGNAGs was 10 times as likely to be conserved between species as was splicing of non-tissue-specific events, implying selective maintenance. Preferential use of the distal NAG was associated with distinct sequence features, including a more distal location of the branch point and presence of a pyrimidine immediately before the first NAG, and alteration of these features in a splicing reporter shifted splicing away from the distal site. Strikingly, alignments of orthologous exons revealed a ∼15-fold increase in the frequency of three base pair gaps at 3′ splice sites relative to nearby exon positions in both mammals and in Drosophila. Alternative splicing of NAGNAGs in human was associated with dramatically increased frequency of exon length changes at orthologous exon boundaries in rodents, and a model involving point mutations that create, destroy, or alter NAGNAGs can explain both the increased frequency and biased codon composition of gained/lost sequence observed at the beginnings of exons. This study shows that NAGNAG alternative splicing generates widespread differences between the proteomes of mammalian tissues, and suggests that the evolutionary trajectories of mammalian proteins are strongly biased by the locations and phases of the introns that interrupt coding sequences.
Author Summary
In order to translate a gene into protein, all of the non-coding regions (introns) need to be removed from the transcript and the coding regions (exons) stitched back together to make an mRNA. Most human genes are alternatively spliced, allowing the selection of different combinations of exons to produce multiple distinct mRNAs and proteins. Many types of alternative splicing are known to play crucial roles in biological processes including cell fate determination, tumor metabolism, and apoptosis. In this study, we investigated a form of alternative splicing in which competing adjacent 3′ splice sites (or splice acceptor sites) generate mRNAs differing by just an RNA triplet, the size of a single codon. This mode of alternative splicing, known as NAGNAG splicing, affects thousands of human genes and has been known for a decade, but its potential regulation, physiological importance, and conservation across species have been disputed. Using high-throughput sequencing of cDNA (“RNA-Seq”) from human and mouse tissues, we found that single-codon splicing often shows strong tissue specificity. Regulated NAGNAG alternative splice sites are selectively conserved between human and mouse genes, suggesting that they are important for organismal fitness. We identified features of the competing splice sites that influence NAGNAG splicing, and validated their effects in cultured cells. Furthermore, we found that this mode of splicing is associated with accelerated and highly biased protein evolution at exon boundaries. Taken together, our analyses demonstrate that the inclusion or exclusion of RNA triplets at exon boundaries can be effectively regulated by the splicing machinery, and highlight an unexpected connection between RNA processing and protein evolution.
PMCID: PMC3250501  PMID: 22235189
25.  Insight into the role of alternative splicing within the RBM10v1 exon 10 tandem donor site 
BMC Research Notes  2015;8:46.
RBM10 is an RNA binding protein involved in the regulation of transcription, alternative splicing and message stabilization. Mutations in RBM10, which maps to the X chromosome, are associated with TARP syndrome, lung and pancreatic cancers. Two predominant isoforms of RBM10 exist, RBM10v1 and RBM10v2. Both variants have alternate isoforms that differ by one valine residue, at amino acid 354 (RBM10v1) or 277 (RBM10v2). It was recently observed that a novel point mutation at amino acid 354 of RBM10v1, replacing valine with glutamic acid, correlated with preferential expression of an exon 11 inclusion variant of the proliferation regulatory protein NUMB, which is upregulated in lung cancer.
We demonstrate, using the GLC20 male-derived small cell lung cancer cell line - confirmed to have only one X chromosome - that the two (+/−) valine isoforms of RBM10v1 and RBM10v2 result from alternative splicing. Protein modeling of the RNA Recognition Motif (RRM) within which the alteration occurs, shows that the presence of valine inhibits the formation of one of the two α-helices associated with RRM tertiary structure, whereas the absence of valine supports the α-helical configuration. We then show 2-fold elevated expression of the transcripts encoding the minus valine RBM10v1 isoform in GLC20 cells, compared to those encoding the plus valine isoform. This expression correlates with preferential expression of the lung cancer-associated NUMB exon 11 inclusion variant.
Our observations suggest that the ability of RBM10v1 to regulate alternative splicing depends, at least in part, on a structural alteration within the second RRM domain, which influences whether RBM10v1 functions to support or repress splicing. A model is presented.
PMCID: PMC4336493
RBM10; RNA binding protein; RRM; Alternative splicing; Regulation; NUMB

Results 1-25 (1146788)