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1.  Manipulation of PK-M mutually exclusive alternative splicing by antisense oligonucleotides 
Open Biology  2012;2(10):120133.
Alternative splicing of the pyruvate kinase M gene involves a choice between mutually exclusive exons 9 and 10. Use of exon 10 to generate the M2 isoform is crucial for aerobic glycolysis (the Warburg effect) and tumour growth. We previously demonstrated that splicing enhancer elements that activate exon 10 are mainly found in exon 10 itself, and deleting or mutating these elements increases the inclusion of exon 9 in cancer cells. To systematically search for new enhancer elements in exon 10 and develop an effective pharmacological method to force a switch from PK-M2 to PK-M1, we carried out an antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) screen. We found potent ASOs that target a novel enhancer in exon 10 and strongly switch the splicing of endogenous PK-M transcripts to include exon 9. We further show that the ASO-mediated switch in alternative splicing leads to apoptosis in glioblastoma cell lines, and this is caused by the downregulation of PK-M2, and not by the upregulation of PK-M1. These data highlight the potential of ASO-mediated inhibition of PK-M2 splicing as therapy for cancer.
PMCID: PMC3498831  PMID: 23155487
alternative splicing; antisense oligonucleotides; cancer
2.  An Intronic Splicing Silencer Causes Skipping of the IIIb Exon of Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 2 through Involvement of Polypyrimidine Tract Binding Protein 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2000;20(19):7388-7400.
Alternative splicing of fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 (FGF-R2) transcripts involves the mutually exclusive usage of exons IIIb and IIIc to produce two different receptor isoforms. Appropriate splicing of exon IIIb in rat prostate cancer DT3 cells requires a previously described cis element (ISAR, for “intronic splicing activator and repressor”) which represses the splicing of exon IIIc and activates the splicing of exon IIIb. This element is nonfunctional in rat prostate AT3 cells, which repress exon IIIb inclusion and splice to exon IIIc. We have now identified an intronic element upstream of exon IIIb that causes repression of exon IIIb splicing. Deletion of this element abrogates the requirement for ISAR in order for exon IIIb to be spliced in DT3 cells and causes inappropriate inclusion of exon IIIb in AT3 cells. This element consists of two intronic splicing silencer (ISS) sequences, ISS1 and ISS2. The ISS1 sequence is pyrimidine rich, and in vitro cross-linking studies demonstrate binding of polypyrimidine tract binding protein (PTB) to this element. Competition studies demonstrate that mutations within ISS1 that abolish PTB binding in vitro alleviate splicing repression in vivo. Cotransfection of a PTB-1 expression vector with a minigene containing exon IIIb and the intronic splicing silencer element demonstrate PTB-mediated repression of exon IIIb splicing. Furthermore, all described PTB isoforms were equally capable of mediating this effect. Our results support a model of splicing regulation in which exon IIIc splicing does not represent a default splicing pathway but rather one in which active repression of exon IIIb splicing occurs in both cells and in which DT3 cells are able to overcome this repression in order to splice exon IIIb.
PMCID: PMC86292  PMID: 10982855
3.  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
4.  HnRNP proteins controlled by c-Myc deregulate pyruvate kinase mRNA splicing in cancer 
Nature  2009;463(7279):364-368.
When oxygen is abundant, quiescent cells efficiently extract energy from glucose primarily by oxidative phosphorylation, whereas under the same conditions tumour cells consume glucose more avidly, converting it to lactate. This long-observed phenomenon is known as aerobic glycolysis1, and is important for cell growth2,3. Because aerobic glycolysis is only useful to growing cells, it is tightly regulated in a proliferation-linked manner4. Inmammals, this is partly achieved through control of pyruvate kinase isoform expression. The embryonic pyruvate kinase isoform, PKM2, is almost universally re-expressed in cancer2, and promotes aerobic glycolysis, whereas the adult isoform, PKM1, promotes oxidative phosphorylation2. These two isoforms result from mutually exclusive alternative splicing of the PKM pre-mRNA, reflecting inclusion of either exon 9 (PKM1) or exon 10 (PKM2). Here we show that three heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein (hnRNP) proteins, polypyrimidine tract binding protein (PTB, also known as hnRNPI), hnRNPA1 and hnRNPA2, bind repressively to sequences flanking exon 9, resulting in exon 10 inclusion. We also demonstrate that the oncogenic transcription factor c-Myc upregulates transcription of PTB, hnRNPA1 and hnRNPA2, ensuring a high PKM2/PKM1 ratio. Establishing a relevance to cancer, we show that human gliomas overexpress c-Myc, PTB, hnRNPA1 and hnRNPA2 in a manner that correlates with PKM2 expression. Our results thus define a pathway that regulates an alternative splicing event required for tumour cell proliferation.
PMCID: PMC2950088  PMID: 20010808
5.  Branch point selection in alternative splicing of tropomyosin pre-mRNAs. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1989;17(14):5633-5650.
The rat tropomyosin 1 gene gives rise to two mRNAs encoding rat fibroblast TM-1 and skeletal muscle beta-tropomyosin via an alternative splicing mechanism. The gene is comprised of 11 exons. Exons 1 through 5 and exons 8 and 9 are common to all mRNAs expressed from this gene. Exons 6 and 11 are used in fibroblasts as well as smooth muscle whereas exons 7 and 10 are used exclusively in skeletal muscle. In the present studies we have focused on the mutually exclusive internal alternative splice choice involving exon 6 (fibroblast-type splice) and exon 7 (skeletal muscle-type splice). To study the mechanism and regulation of alternative splice site selection we have characterized the branch points used in processing of the tropomyosin pre-mRNAs in vitro using nuclear extracts obtained from HeLa cells. Splicing of exon 5 to exon 6 (fibroblast-type splice) involves the use of three branch points located 25, 29, and 36 nucleotides upstream of the 3' splice site of exon 6. Splicing of exon 6 (fibroblast-type splice) or exon 7 (skeletal muscle type-splice) to exon 8 involves the use of the same branch point located 24 nucleotides upstream of this shared 3' splice site. In contrast, the splicing of exon 5 to exon 7 (skeletal muscle-type splice) involves the use of three branch sites located 144, 147 and 153 nucleotides, upstream of the 3' splice site of exon 7. In addition, the pyrimidine content of the region between these unusual branch points and the 3' splice site of exon 7 was found to be greater than 80%. These studies raise the possibility that the use of branch points located a long distance from a 3' splice site may be an essential feature of some alternatively spliced exons. The possible significance of these unusual branch points as well as a role for the polypyrimidine stretch in intron 6 in splice site selection are discussed.
PMCID: PMC318185  PMID: 2762151
6.  CELF Family RNA–Binding Protein UNC-75 Regulates Two Sets of Mutually Exclusive Exons of the unc-32 Gene in Neuron-Specific Manners in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(2):e1003337.
An enormous number of alternative pre–mRNA splicing patterns in multicellular organisms are coordinately defined by a limited number of regulatory proteins and cis elements. Mutually exclusive alternative splicing should be strictly regulated and is a challenging model for elucidating regulation mechanisms. Here we provide models of the regulation of two sets of mutually exclusive exons, 4a–4c and 7a–7b, of the Caenorhabditis elegans uncoordinated (unc)-32 gene, encoding the a subunit of V0 complex of vacuolar-type H+-ATPases. We visualize selection patterns of exon 4 and exon 7 in vivo by utilizing a trio and a pair of symmetric fluorescence splicing reporter minigenes, respectively, to demonstrate that they are regulated in tissue-specific manners. Genetic analyses reveal that RBFOX family RNA–binding proteins ASD-1 and FOX-1 and a UGCAUG stretch in intron 7b are involved in the neuron-specific selection of exon 7a. Through further forward genetic screening, we identify UNC-75, a neuron-specific CELF family RNA–binding protein of unknown function, as an essential regulator for the exon 7a selection. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays specify a short fragment in intron 7a as the recognition site for UNC-75 and demonstrate that UNC-75 specifically binds via its three RNA recognition motifs to the element including a UUGUUGUGUUGU stretch. The UUGUUGUGUUGU stretch in the reporter minigenes is actually required for the selection of exon 7a in the nervous system. We compare the amounts of partially spliced RNAs in the wild-type and unc-75 mutant backgrounds and raise a model for the mutually exclusive selection of unc-32 exon 7 by the RBFOX family and UNC-75. The neuron-specific selection of unc-32 exon 4b is also regulated by UNC-75 and the unc-75 mutation suppresses the Unc phenotype of the exon-4b-specific allele of unc-32 mutants. Taken together, UNC-75 is the neuron-specific splicing factor and regulates both sets of the mutually exclusive exons of the unc-32 gene.
Author Summary
Tissue-specific and mutually exclusive alternative pre–mRNA splicing is a challenging model for elucidating regulation mechanisms. We previously demonstrated that evolutionarily conserved RBFOX family RNA–binding proteins ASD-1 and FOX-1 and a muscle-specific RNA–binding protein SUP-12 cooperatively direct muscle-specific selection of exon 5B of the C. elegans egl-15 gene. Here we demonstrate that two sets of mutually exclusive exons, 4a–4c and 7a–7b, of the unc-32 gene are regulated in tissue-specific manners and that ASD-1 and FOX-1, expressed in a variety of tissues, can regulate the neuron-specific selection of unc-32 exon 7a in combination with the neuron-specific CELF family RNA–binding protein UNC-75. We determine the cis-elements for the RBFOX family and UNC-75, which separately reside in intron 7b and intron 7a, respectively. By analyzing the partially spliced RNA species, we propose the orders of intron removal and the sites of action for the RBFOX family and UNC-75 in the mutually exclusive selection of exon 7a and exon 7b. We also demonstrate that UNC-75 regulates the neuron-specific selection of exon 4b and propose the models of the mutually exclusive selection of exons 4a, 4b, and 4c. These studies thus provide novel modes of regulation for tissue-specific and mutually exclusive alternative splicing in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3585155  PMID: 23468662
7.  Alternative splicing of beta-tropomyosin pre-mRNA: multiple cis-elements can contribute to the use of the 5'- and 3'-splice sites of the nonmuscle/smooth muscle exon 6. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1994;22(12):2318-2325.
We previously found that the splicing of exon 5 to exon 6 in the rat beta-TM gene required that exon 6 first be joined to the downstream common exon 8 (Helfman et al., Genes and Dev. 2, 1627-1638, 1988). Pre-mRNAs containing exon 5, intron 5 and exon 6 are not normally spliced in vitro. We have carried out a mutational analysis to determine which sequences in the pre-mRNA contribute to the inability of this precursor to be spliced in vitro. We found that mutations in two regions of the pre-mRNA led to activation of the 3'-splice site of exon 6, without first joining exon 6 to exon 8. First, introduction of a nine nucleotide poly U tract upstream of the 3'-splice site of exon 6 results in the splicing of exon 5 to exon 6 with as little as 35 nucleotides of exon 6. Second, introduction of a consensus 5'-splice site in exon 6 led to splicing of exon 5 to exon 6. Thus, three distinct elements can act independently to activate the use of the 3'-splice site of exon 6: (1) the sequences contained within exon 8 when joined to exon 6, (2) a poly U tract in intron 5, and (3) a consensus 5'-splice site in exon 6. Using biochemical assays, we have determined that these sequence elements interact with distinct cellular factors for 3'-splice site utilization. Although HeLa cell nuclear extracts were able to splice all three types of pre-mRNAs mentioned above, a cytoplasmic S100 fraction supplemented with SR proteins was unable to efficiently splice exon 5 to exon 6 using precursors in which exon 6 was joined to exon 8. We also studied how these elements contribute to alternative splice site selection using precursors containing the mutually exclusive, alternatively spliced cassette comprised of exons 5 through 8. Introduction of the poly U tract upstream of exon 6, and changing the 5'-splice site of exon 6 to a consensus sequence, either alone or in combination, facilitated the use of exon 6 in vitro, such that exon 6 was spliced more efficiently to exon 8. These data show that intron sequences upstream of an exon can contribute to the use of the downstream 5'-splice, and that sequences surrounding exon 6 can contribute to tissue-specific alternative splice site selection.
PMCID: PMC523690  PMID: 8036160
8.  The Emergence of Alternative 3′ and 5′ Splice Site Exons from Constitutive Exons 
PLoS Computational Biology  2007;3(5):e95.
Alternative 3′ and 5′ splice site (ss) events constitute a significant part of all alternative splicing events. These events were also found to be related to several aberrant splicing diseases. However, only few of the characteristics that distinguish these events from alternative cassette exons are known currently. In this study, we compared the characteristics of constitutive exons, alternative cassette exons, and alternative 3′ss and 5′ss exons. The results revealed that alternative 3′ss and 5′ss exons are an intermediate state between constitutive and alternative cassette exons, where the constitutive side resembles constitutive exons, and the alternative side resembles alternative cassette exons. The results also show that alternative 3′ss and 5′ss exons exhibit low levels of symmetry (frame-preserving), similar to constitutive exons, whereas the sequence between the two alternative splice sites shows high symmetry levels, similar to alternative cassette exons. In addition, flanking intronic conservation analysis revealed that exons whose alternative splice sites are at least nine nucleotides apart show a high conservation level, indicating intronic participation in the regulation of their splicing, whereas exons whose alternative splice sites are fewer than nine nucleotides apart show a low conservation level. Further examination of these exons, spanning seven vertebrate species, suggests an evolutionary model in which the alternative state is a derivative of an ancestral constitutive exon, where a mutation inside the exon or along the flanking intron resulted in the creation of a new splice site that competes with the original one, leading to alternative splice site selection. This model was validated experimentally on four exons, showing that they indeed originated from constitutive exons that acquired a new competing splice site during evolution.
Author Summary
Alternative splicing is the mechanism that is responsible for the creation of multiple mRNA products from a single gene. It is considered a key player in genomic complexity achievement. Alternative 3′ and 5′ splicing events in which part of the exon is alternatively included or excluded in the mRNA constitute a significant part of all alternative splicing events, and yet little is known regarding their regulation mechanism and the evolutionary background that led to their creation. We show that alternative 3′ and 5′ splice site exons resemble constitutive exons. However, their alternative sequence resembles alternative cassette exons. Comparative genomics spanning seven vertebrate species suggests an evolutionary model in which the alternative state is a derivative of an ancestral constitutive exon, where a mutation inside the exon or along the flanking intron resulted in the creation of a new splice site that competes with the original one, leading to alternative splice site selection. This model was validated experimentally, showing that during evolution mutations shifted constitutive exons to undergo alternative 3′ and 5′ splicing.
PMCID: PMC1876488  PMID: 17530917
9.  Turning on a fuel switch of cancer – hnRNP proteins regulate alternative splicing of pyruvate kinase mRNA 
Cancer research  2010;70(22):8977-8980.
Unlike normal cells, which metabolize glucose by oxidative phosphorylation for efficient energy production, tumor cells preferentially metabolize glucose by aerobic glycolysis, which produces less energy but facilitates the incorporation of more glycolytic metabolites into the biomass needed for rapid proliferation. The metabolic shift from oxidative phosphorylation to aerobic glycolysis is partly achieved by a switch in the splice isoforms of the glycolytic enzyme pyruvate kinase. While normal cells express the pyruvate kinase M1 isoform (PKM1), tumor cells predominantly express the M2 isoform (PKM2). Switching from PKM1 to PKM2 promotes aerobic glycolysis and provides a selective advantage for tumor formation. The PKM1/M2 isoforms are generated through alternative splicing of two mutually exclusive exons. A recent study demonstrates that the alternative splicing event is controlled by heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein (hnRNP) family members hnRNPA1, hnRNPA2, and polypyrimidine tract binding protein (PTB; also known as hnRNPI). These findings not only provide additional evidence that alternative splicing plays an important role in tumorigenesis, but also shed light on the molecular mechanism by which hnRNP proteins regulate cell proliferation in cancer.
PMCID: PMC2982937  PMID: 20978194
10.  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
11.  Identification of Evolutionarily Conserved Exons as Regulated Targets for the Splicing Activator Tra2β in Development 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(12):e1002390.
Alternative splicing amplifies the information content of the genome, creating multiple mRNA isoforms from single genes. The evolutionarily conserved splicing activator Tra2β (Sfrs10) is essential for mouse embryogenesis and implicated in spermatogenesis. Here we find that Tra2β is up-regulated as the mitotic stem cell containing population of male germ cells differentiate into meiotic and post-meiotic cells. Using CLIP coupled to deep sequencing, we found that Tra2β binds a high frequency of exons and identified specific G/A rich motifs as frequent targets. Significantly, for the first time we have analysed the splicing effect of Sfrs10 depletion in vivo by generating a conditional neuronal-specific Sfrs10 knock-out mouse (Sfrs10fl/fl; Nestin-Cretg/+). This mouse has defects in brain development and allowed correlation of genuine physiologically Tra2β regulated exons. These belonged to a novel class which were longer than average size and importantly needed multiple cooperative Tra2β binding sites for efficient splicing activation, thus explaining the observed splicing defects in the knockout mice. Regulated exons included a cassette exon which produces a meiotic isoform of the Nasp histone chaperone that helps monitor DNA double-strand breaks. We also found a previously uncharacterised poison exon identifying a new pathway of feedback control between vertebrate Tra2 proteins. Both Nasp-T and the Tra2a poison exon are evolutionarily conserved, suggesting they might control fundamental developmental processes. Tra2β protein isoforms lacking the RRM were able to activate specific target exons indicating an additional functional role as a splicing co-activator. Significantly the N-terminal RS1 domain conserved between flies and humans was essential for the splicing activator function of Tra2β. Versions of Tra2β lacking this N-terminal RS1 domain potently repressed the same target exons activated by full-length Tra2β protein.
Author Summary
Alternative splicing amplifies the informational content of the genome, making multiple mRNA isoforms from single genes. Tra2 proteins bind and activate alternative exons, and in mice Tra2β is essential for embryonic development through unknown target RNAs. Here we report the first target exons that are physiologically regulated by Tra2β in developing mice. Normal activation of these regulated exons depends on multiple Tra2β binding sites, and significant mis-regulation of these exons is observed during mouse development when Tra2β is removed. As expected, Tra2β activates splicing of some target exons through direct RNA binding via its RNA Recognition Motif. Surprisingly, for some exons Tra2β can also activate splicing independent of direct RNA binding through two domains enriched in arginine and serine residues (called RS domains). The N-terminal RS1 domain of Tra2β is absolutely essential for splicing activation of physiological target exons, explaining why this domain is conserved between vertebrates and invertebrates. Surprisingly, Tra2β proteins without RS1 operate as splicing repressors, suggesting the possibility that endogenous Tra2β protein isoforms may differentially regulate the same target exons.
PMCID: PMC3240583  PMID: 22194695
12.  Alu Exonization Events Reveal Features Required for Precise Recognition of Exons by the Splicing Machinery 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(3):e1000300.
Despite decades of research, the question of how the mRNA splicing machinery precisely identifies short exonic islands within the vast intronic oceans remains to a large extent obscure. In this study, we analyzed Alu exonization events, aiming to understand the requirements for correct selection of exons. Comparison of exonizing Alus to their non-exonizing counterparts is informative because Alus in these two groups have retained high sequence similarity but are perceived differently by the splicing machinery. We identified and characterized numerous features used by the splicing machinery to discriminate between Alu exons and their non-exonizing counterparts. Of these, the most novel is secondary structure: Alu exons in general and their 5′ splice sites (5′ss) in particular are characterized by decreased stability of local secondary structures with respect to their non-exonizing counterparts. We detected numerous further differences between Alu exons and their non-exonizing counterparts, among others in terms of exon–intron architecture and strength of splicing signals, enhancers, and silencers. Support vector machine analysis revealed that these features allow a high level of discrimination (AUC = 0.91) between exonizing and non-exonizing Alus. Moreover, the computationally derived probabilities of exonization significantly correlated with the biological inclusion level of the Alu exons, and the model could also be extended to general datasets of constitutive and alternative exons. This indicates that the features detected and explored in this study provide the basis not only for precise exon selection but also for the fine-tuned regulation thereof, manifested in cases of alternative splicing.
Author Summary
A typical human gene consists of 9 exons around 150 nucleotides in length, separated by introns that are ∼3,000 nucleotides long. The challenge of the splicing machinery is to precisely identify and ligate the exons, while removing the introns. We aimed to understand how the splicing machinery meets this momentous challenge, based on Alu exonization events. Alus are transposable elements, of which approximately one million copies exist in the human genome, a large portion of which within introns. Throughout evolution, some intronic Alus accumulated mutations and became recognized by the splicing machinery as exons, a process termed exonization. Such Alus remain highly similar to their non-exonizing counterparts but are perceived as different by the splicing machinery. By comparing exonizing Alus to their non-exonizing counterparts, we were able to identify numerous features in which they differ and which presumably lead to the recognition only of the former by the splicing machinery. Our findings reveal insights regarding the role of local RNA secondary structures, exon–intron architecture constraints, and splicing regulatory signals. We integrated these features in a computational model, which was able to successfully mimic the function of the splicing machinery and discriminate between true Alu exons and their intronic counterparts, highlighting the functional importance of these features.
PMCID: PMC2639721  PMID: 19266014
13.  Unusual Intron Conservation near Tissue-Regulated Exons Found by Splicing Microarrays 
Alternative splicing contributes to both gene regulation and protein diversity. To discover broad relationships between regulation of alternative splicing and sequence conservation, we applied a systems approach, using oligonucleotide microarrays designed to capture splicing information across the mouse genome. In a set of 22 adult tissues, we observe differential expression of RNA containing at least two alternative splice junctions for about 40% of the 6,216 alternative events we could detect. Statistical comparisons identify 171 cassette exons whose inclusion or skipping is different in brain relative to other tissues and another 28 exons whose splicing is different in muscle. A subset of these exons is associated with unusual blocks of intron sequence whose conservation in vertebrates rivals that of protein-coding exons. By focusing on sets of exons with similar regulatory patterns, we have identified new sequence motifs implicated in brain and muscle splicing regulation. Of note is a motif that is strikingly similar to the branchpoint consensus but is located downstream of the 5′ splice site of exons included in muscle. Analysis of three paralogous membrane-associated guanylate kinase genes reveals that each contains a paralogous tissue-regulated exon with a similar tissue inclusion pattern. While the intron sequences flanking these exons remain highly conserved among mammalian orthologs, the paralogous flanking intron sequences have diverged considerably, suggesting unusually complex evolution of the regulation of alternative splicing in multigene families.
Alternative splicing expands the protein-coding potential of genes and genomes. RNAs copied from a gene can be spliced differently to produce distinct proteins under regulatory influences that arise during development or upon environmental change. These authors present a global analysis of alternative splicing in the mouse, using microarray measurements of splicing from 22 adult tissues. The ability to measure thousands of splicing events across the genome in many tissues has allowed the capture of co-regulated sets of exons whose inclusion in mRNA occurs preferentially in a given set of tissues. An examination of the sequences associated with exons whose expression is regulated in brain or muscle as compared to other tissues reveals extreme conservation of intron sequences nearby the regulated exon. These conserved regions contain sequence motifs likely to contribute to the regulation of alternative splicing in brain and muscle cells. The availability of global gene expression data with splicing level resolution should spur the development of computational methods for detecting and predicting alternative splicing and its regulation. In addition, the authors make strong predictions for biological experiments leading to the identification of components and their mechanisms of action in the regulation of splicing during mammalian development.
PMCID: PMC1331982  PMID: 16424921
14.  A Novel Intronic cis Element, ISE/ISS-3, Regulates Rat Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 2 Splicing through Activation of an Upstream Exon and Repression of a Downstream Exon Containing a Noncanonical Branch Point Sequence 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2005;25(1):250-263.
Mutually exclusive splicing of fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 (FGFR2) exons IIIb and IIIc yields two receptor isoforms, FGFR2-IIIb and -IIIc, with distinctly different ligand binding properties. Several RNA cis elements in the intron (intron 8) separating these exons have been described that are required for splicing regulation. Using a heterologous splicing reporter, we have identified a new regulatory element in this intron that confers cell-type-specific inclusion of an unrelated exon that mirrors its ability to promote cell-type-specific inclusion of exon IIIb. This element promoted inclusion of exon IIIb while at the same time silencing exon IIIc inclusion in cells expressing FGFR2-IIIb; hence, we have termed this element ISE/ISS-3 (for “intronic splicing enhancer-intronic splicing silencer 3”). Silencing of exon IIIc splicing by ISE/ISS-3 was shown to require a branch point sequence (BPS) using G as the primary branch nucleotide. Replacing a consensus BPS with A as the primary branch nucleotide resulted in constitutive splicing of exon IIIc. Our results suggest that the branch point sequence constitutes an important component that can contribute to the efficiency of exon definition of alternatively spliced cassette exons. Noncanonical branch points may thus facilitate cell-type-specific silencing of regulated exons by flanking cis elements.
PMCID: PMC538792  PMID: 15601847
15.  Organization and post-transcriptional processing of focal adhesion kinase gene 
BMC Genomics  2006;7:198.
Focal adhesion kinase (FAK) is a non-receptor tyrosine kinase critical for processes ranging from embryo development to cancer progression. Although isoforms with specific molecular and functional properties have been characterized in rodents and chicken, the organization of FAK gene throughout phylogeny and its potential to generate multiple isoforms are not well understood. Here, we study the phylogeny of FAK, the organization of its gene, and its post-transcriptional processing in rodents and human.
A single orthologue of FAK and the related PYK2 was found in non-vertebrate species. Gene duplication probably occurred in deuterostomes after the echinoderma embranchment, leading to the evolution of PYK2 with distinct properties. The amino acid sequence of FAK and PYK2 is conserved in their functional domains but not in their linker regions, with the absence of autophosphorylation site in C. elegans. Comparison of mouse and human FAK genes revealed the existence of multiple combinations of conserved and non-conserved 5'-untranslated exons in FAK transcripts suggesting a complex regulation of their expression. Four alternatively spliced coding exons (13, 14, 16, and 31), previously described in rodents, are highly conserved in vertebrates. Cis-regulatory elements known to regulate alternative splicing were found in conserved alternative exons of FAK or in the flanking introns. In contrast, other reported human variant exons were restricted to Homo sapiens, and, in some cases, other primates. Several of these non-conserved exons may correspond to transposable elements. The inclusion of conserved alternative exons was examined by RT-PCR in mouse and human brain during development. Inclusion of exons 14 and 16 peaked at the end of embryonic life, whereas inclusion of exon 13 increased steadily until adulthood. Study of various tissues showed that inclusion of these exons also occurred, independently from each other, in a tissue-specific fashion.
The alternative coding exons 13, 14, 16, and 31 are highly conserved in vertebrates and their inclusion in mRNA is tightly but independently regulated. These exons may therefore be crucial for FAK function in specific tissues or during development. Conversely pathological disturbance of the expression of FAK and of its isoforms could lead to abnormal cellular regulation.
PMCID: PMC1570463  PMID: 16889663
16.  An Intronic Sequence Element Mediates Both Activation and Repression of Rat Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 2 Pre-mRNA Splicing 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  1998;18(4):2205-2217.
Alternative splicing of fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 (FGF-R2) is an example of highly regulated alternative splicing in which exons IIIb and IIIc are utilized in a mutually exclusive manner in different cell types. The importance of this splicing choice is highlighted by studies which indicate that deregulation of the FGF-R2 splicing is associated with progression of prostate cancer. Loss of expression of a IIIb exon-containing isoform of FGF-R2 [FGF-R2 (IIIb)] accompanies the transition of a well-differentiated, androgen-dependent rat prostate cancer cell line, DT3, to the more aggressive, androgen-independent AT3 cell line. We have used transfection of rat FGF-R2 minigenes into DT3 and AT3 cancer cell lines to study the mechanisms that control alternative splicing of rat FGF-R2. Our results support a model in which an important cis-acting element located in the intron between these alternative exons mediates activation of splicing using the upstream IIIb exon and repression of the downstream IIIc exon in DT3 cells. This element consists of 57 nucleotides (nt) beginning 917 nt downstream of the IIIb exon. Analysis of mutants further demonstrates that an 18-nt “core sequence” within this element is most crucial for its function. Based on our observations, we have termed this sequence element ISAR (for intronic splicing activator and repressor), and we suggest that factors which bind this sequence are required for maintenance of expression of the FGF-R2 (IIIb) isoform.
PMCID: PMC121464  PMID: 9528792
17.  Internal and External Paralogy in the Evolution of Tropomyosin Genes in Metazoans 
Molecular Biology and Evolution  2010;27(7):1504-1517.
Nature contains a tremendous diversity of forms both at the organismal and genomic levels. This diversity motivates the twin central questions of molecular evolution: what are the molecular mechanisms of adaptation, and what are the functional consequences of genomic diversity. We report a 22-species comparative analysis of tropomyosin (PPM) genes, which exist in a variety of forms and are implicated in the emergence of a wealth of cellular functions, including the novel muscle functions integral to the functional diversification of bilateral animals. TPM genes encode either or both of long-form [284 amino acid (aa)] and short-form (approximately 248 aa) proteins. Consistent with a role of TPM diversification in the origins and radiation of bilaterians, we find evidence that the muscle-specific long-form protein arose in proximal bilaterian ancestors (the bilaterian ‘stem’). Duplication of the 5′ end of the gene led to alternative promoters encoding long- and short-form transcripts with distinct functions. This dual-function gene then underwent strikingly parallel evolution in different bilaterian lineages. In each case, recurrent tandem exon duplication and mutually exclusive alternative splicing of the duplicates, with further association between these alternatively spliced exons along the gene, led to long- and short-form–specific exons, allowing for gradual emergence of alternative “internal paralogs” within the same gene. We term these Mutually exclusively Alternatively spliced Tandemly duplicated Exon sets “MATEs”. This emergence of internal paralogs in various bilaterians has employed every single TPM exon in at least one lineage and reaches striking levels of divergence with up to 77% of long- and short-form transcripts being transcribed from different genomic regions. Interestingly, in some lineages, these internal alternatively spliced paralogs have subsequently been “externalized” by full gene duplication and reciprocal retention/loss of the two transcript isoforms, a particularly clear case of evolution by subfunctionalization. This parallel evolution of TPM genes in diverse metazoans attests to common selective forces driving divergence of different gene transcripts and represents a striking case of emergence of evolutionary novelty by alternative splicing.
PMCID: PMC2912468  PMID: 20147436
genome innovation; alternative splicing; intron sliding; exon duplication; tropomyosin
18.  Concentration-dependent control of pyruvate kinase M mutually exclusive splicing by hnRNP proteins 
Expression of the mammalian pyruvate kinase M (PKM) gene provides an important example of mutually exclusive splicing. We showed previously that the hnRNP proteins A1, A2 and PTB play a critical role in this process. Here we provide evidence that concentration-dependent interactions involving a network of these proteins are sufficient to determine the outcome of PKM splicing. At high concentrations, such as found in most cancer cells, hnRNP A1 binding to two sites in the upstream regulated exon (exon 9) orchestrates cooperative interactions leading to exon 9 exclusion. At lower concentrations, binding shifts to downstream intronic sites such that exon 9 is included and exon 10 largely excluded, with any mRNA including both exons degraded by nonsense-mediated decay. Together our results provide a mechanism by which a small number of general factors control alternative splicing of a widely expressed transcript.
PMCID: PMC3698866  PMID: 22307054
19.  Intronic Alternative Splicing Regulators Identified by Comparative Genomics in Nematodes 
PLoS Computational Biology  2006;2(7):e86.
Many alternative splicing events are regulated by pentameric and hexameric intronic sequences that serve as binding sites for splicing regulatory factors. We hypothesized that intronic elements that regulate alternative splicing are under selective pressure for evolutionary conservation. Using a Wobble Aware Bulk Aligner genomic alignment of Caenorhabditis elegans and Caenorhabditis briggsae, we identified 147 alternatively spliced cassette exons that exhibit short regions of high nucleotide conservation in the introns flanking the alternative exon. In vivo experiments on the alternatively spliced let-2 gene confirm that these conserved regions can be important for alternative splicing regulation. Conserved intronic element sequences were collected into a dataset and the occurrence of each pentamer and hexamer motif was counted. We compared the frequency of pentamers and hexamers in the conserved intronic elements to a dataset of all C. elegans intron sequences in order to identify short intronic motifs that are more likely to be associated with alternative splicing. High-scoring motifs were examined for upstream or downstream preferences in introns surrounding alternative exons. Many of the high- scoring nematode pentamer and hexamer motifs correspond to known mammalian splicing regulatory sequences, such as (T)GCATG, indicating that the mechanism of alternative splicing regulation is well conserved in metazoans. A comparison of the analysis of the conserved intronic elements, and analysis of the entire introns flanking these same exons, reveals that focusing on intronic conservation can increase the sensitivity of detecting putative splicing regulatory motifs. This approach also identified novel sequences whose role in splicing is under investigation and has allowed us to take a step forward in defining a catalog of splicing regulatory elements for an organism. In vivo experiments confirm that one novel high-scoring sequence from our analysis, (T)CTATC, is important for alternative splicing regulation of the unc-52 gene.
Alternative splicing of precursor messenger RNA is a process by which multiple protein isoforms are generated from a single gene. As many as 60% of human genes are processed in this manner, creating tissue-specific isoforms of proteins that may be a key factor in regulating the complexity of our physiology. One of the major challenges to understanding this process is to identify the sequences on the precursor messenger RNA responsible for splicing regulation. Some of these regulatory sequences occur in regions that are spliced out (called introns). This study tested the hypothesis that there should be evolutionary pressure to maintain these intronic regulatory sequences, even though intron sequence is non-coding and rapidly diverges between species. The authors employed a genomic alignment of two roundworms, Caenorhabditis elegans and Caenorhabditis briggsae, to investigate the regulation of alternative splicing. By examining evolutionarily conserved stretches of introns flanking alternatively spliced exons, the authors identified and functionally confirmed splicing regulatory sequences. Many of the top scoring sequences match known mammalian regulators, suggesting the alternative splicing regulatory mechanism is conserved across all metazoans. Other sequences were not previously identified in mammals and may represent new alternative splicing regulatory elements in higher organisms or ones that may be specific to worms.
PMCID: PMC1500816  PMID: 16839192
20.  Alternative Splicing Events Identified in Human Embryonic Stem Cells and Neural Progenitors 
PLoS Computational Biology  2007;3(10):e196.
Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and neural progenitor (NP) cells are excellent models for recapitulating early neuronal development in vitro, and are key to establishing strategies for the treatment of degenerative disorders. While much effort had been undertaken to analyze transcriptional and epigenetic differences during the transition of hESC to NP, very little work has been performed to understand post-transcriptional changes during neuronal differentiation. Alternative RNA splicing (AS), a major form of post-transcriptional gene regulation, is important in mammalian development and neuronal function. Human ESC, hESC-derived NP, and human central nervous system stem cells were compared using Affymetrix exon arrays. We introduced an outlier detection approach, REAP (Regression-based Exon Array Protocol), to identify 1,737 internal exons that are predicted to undergo AS in NP compared to hESC. Experimental validation of REAP-predicted AS events indicated a threshold-dependent sensitivity ranging from 56% to 69%, at a specificity of 77% to 96%. REAP predictions significantly overlapped sets of alternative events identified using expressed sequence tags and evolutionarily conserved AS events. Our results also reveal that focusing on differentially expressed genes between hESC and NP will overlook 14% of potential AS genes. In addition, we found that REAP predictions are enriched in genes encoding serine/threonine kinase and helicase activities. An example is a REAP-predicted alternative exon in the SLK (serine/threonine kinase 2) gene that is differentially included in hESC, but skipped in NP as well as in other differentiated tissues. Lastly, comparative sequence analysis revealed conserved intronic cis-regulatory elements such as the FOX1/2 binding site GCAUG as being proximal to candidate AS exons, suggesting that FOX1/2 may participate in the regulation of AS in NP and hESC. In summary, a new methodology for exon array analysis was introduced, leading to new insights into the complexity of AS in human embryonic stem cells and their transition to neural stem cells.
Author Summary
Deriving neural progenitors (NP) from human embryonic stem cells (hESC) is the first step in creating homogeneous populations of cells that will differentiate into myriad neuronal subtypes necessary to form a human brain. During alternative RNA splicing (AS), noncoding sequences (introns) in a pre-mRNA are differentially removed in different cell types and tissues, and the remaining sequences (exons) are joined to form multiple forms of mature RNA, playing an important role in cellular diversity. The authors utilized Affymetrix exon arrays with probes targeting hundreds of thousands of exons to study AS comparing human ES to NP. To accomplish this, a novel computational method, REAP (Regression-based Exon Array Protocol), is introduced to analyze the exon array data. The authors showed that REAP candidates are consistent with other types of methods for discovering alternative exons. In addition, REAP candidate alternative exons are enriched in genes encoding serine/theronine kinases and helicase activities. An example is the alternative exon in the SLK (serine/threonine kinase 2) gene that is included in hESC, but excluded in NP as well as in other differentiated tissues. Finally, by comparing genomic sequences across multiple mammals, the authors identified dozens of conserved candidate binding sites that were enriched proximal to REAP candidate exons.
PMCID: PMC2041973  PMID: 17967047
21.  Regulation of Dscam exon 17 alternative splicing by steric hindrance in combination with RNA secondary structures 
RNA Biology  2013;10(12):1822-1833.
The gene Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule (Dscam) potentially encodes 38 016 distinct isoforms in Drosophila melanogaster via mutually exclusive splicing. Here we reveal a combinatorial mechanism of regulation of Dscam exon 17 mutually exclusive splicing through steric hindrance in combination with RNA secondary structure. This mutually exclusive behavior is enforced by steric hindrance, due to the close proximity of the exon 17.2 branch point to exon 17.1 in Diptera, and the interval size constraint in non-Dipteran species. Moreover, intron-exon RNA structures are evolutionarily conserved in 36 non-Drosophila species of six distantly related orders (Diptera, Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, Hymenoptera, Hemiptera, and Phthiraptera), which regulates the selection of exon 17 variants via masking the splice site. By contrast, a previously uncharacterized RNA structure specifically activated exon 17.1 by bringing splice sites closer together in Drosophila, while the other moderately suppressed exon 17.1 selection by hindering the accessibility of polypyrimidine sequences. Taken together, these data suggest a phylogeny of increased complexity in regulating alternative splicing of Dscam exon 17 spanning more than 300 million years of insect evolution. These results also provide models of the regulation of alternative splicing through steric hindrance in combination with dynamic structural codes.
PMCID: PMC3917985  PMID: 24448213
mutually exclusive splicing; steric hindrance; RNA secondary structures; Dscam exon 17; evolution
22.  Role ofBMPR2 Alternative Splicing in HPAH Penetrance 
Circulation  2012;126(15):1907-1916.
Bone morphogenic protein receptor 2 (BMPR2) gene mutations are the most common cause of heritable PAH (HPAH). However only 20% of mutation carriers get clinical disease. Here we explored the hypothesis that this reduced penetrance is in part due to an alteration in BMPR2 alternative splicing.
Methods and Results
Our data showed that BMPR2 has multiple alternatively spliced variants. Two of these, isoform-A (full-length) and isoform-B (missing exon 12), were expressed in all tissues analyzed. Analysis of cultured lymphocytes (CLs) of 47 BMPR2 mutation-positive HPAH-patients and 35 BMPR2 mutation-positive unaffected-carriers showed that patients had higher levels of isoform-B compared to isoform-A (B/A ratio) than carriers (P=0.002). Furthermore compared to cells with low B/A ratio, cells with high B/A ratio had lower levels of unphosphorylated cofilin following BMP stimulation. Analysis of exon 12 sequences identified an exonic splice enhancer, which binds serine arginine splicing factor 2 (SRSF2). Because SRSF2 promotes exon inclusion, reduced SRSF2 expression would mean that exon 12 would not be included in final BMPR2 mRNA (thus promoting increased isoform-B formation). Western blot analysis showed that SRSF2 expression was lower in cells from patients compared to carriers; and, siRNA-mediated knockdown of SRSF2 in pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells resulted in elevated levels of isoform-B compared to isoform-A, i.e. elevated B/A ratio.
Alterations in BMPR2 isoform ratios may provide an explanation of the reduced penetrance among BMPR2 mutation carriers. This ratio is controlled by an exonic splice enhancer in exon 12 and its associated splicing factor SRSF2.
PMCID: PMC4113011  PMID: 22923426
pulmonary hypertension; Alternate Splicing; BMPR2; Penetrance; SRSF2
23.  Effect of exonic splicing regulation on synonymous codon usage in alternatively spliced exons of Dscam 
Synonymous codon usage is typically biased towards translationally superior codons in many organisms. In Drosophila, genomic data indicates that translationally optimal codons and splice optimal codons are mostly mutually exclusive, and adaptation to translational efficiency is reduced in the intron-exon boundary regions where potential exonic splicing enhancers (ESEs) reside. In contrast to genomic scale analyses on large datasets, a refined study on a well-controlled set of samples can be effective in demonstrating the effects of particular splice-related factors. Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule (Dscam) has the largest number of alternatively spliced exons (ASEs) known to date, and the splicing frequency of each ASE is accessible from the relative abundance of the transcript. Thus, these ASEs comprise a unique model system for studying the effect of splicing regulation on synonymous codon usage.
Codon Bias Indices (CBI) in the 3' boundary regions were reduced compared to the rest of the exonic regions among 48 and 33 ASEs of exon 6 and 9 clusters, respectively. These regional differences in CBI were affected by splicing frequency and distance from adjacent exons. Synonymous divergence levels between the 3' boundary region and the remaining exonic region of exon 6 ASEs were similar. Additionally, another sensitive comparison of paralogous exonic regions in recently retrotransposed processed genes and their parental genes revealed that, in the former, the differences in CBI between what were formerly the central regions and the boundary regions gradually became smaller over time.
Analyses of the multiple ASEs of Dscam allowed direct tests of the effect of splice-related factors on synonymous codon usage and provided clear evidence that synonymous codon usage bias is restricted by exonic splicing signals near the intron-exon boundary. A similar synonymous divergence level between the different exonic regions suggests that the intensity of splice-related selection is generally weak and comparable to that of translational selection. Finally, the leveling off of differences in codon bias over time in retrotransposed genes meets the direct prediction of the tradeoff model that invokes conflict between translational superiority and splicing regulation, and strengthens the conclusions obtained from Dscam.
PMCID: PMC2741454  PMID: 19709440
24.  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
25.  Predicting mutually exclusive spliced exons based on exon length, splice site and reading frame conservation, and exon sequence homology 
BMC Bioinformatics  2011;12:270.
Alternative splicing of pre-mature RNA is an important process eukaryotes utilize to increase their repertoire of different protein products. Several types of different alternative splice forms exist including exon skipping, differential splicing of exons at their 3'- or 5'-end, intron retention, and mutually exclusive splicing. The latter term is used for clusters of internal exons that are spliced in a mutually exclusive manner.
We have implemented an extension to the WebScipio software to search for mutually exclusive exons. Here, the search is based on the precondition that mutually exclusive exons encode regions of the same structural part of the protein product. This precondition provides restrictions to the search for candidate exons concerning their length, splice site conservation and reading frame preservation, and overall homology. Mutually exclusive exons that are not homologous and not of about the same length will not be found. Using the new algorithm, mutually exclusive exons in several example genes, a dynein heavy chain, a muscle myosin heavy chain, and Dscam were correctly identified. In addition, the algorithm was applied to the whole Drosophila melanogaster X chromosome and the results were compared to the Flybase annotation and an ab initio prediction. Clusters of mutually exclusive exons might be subsequent to each other and might encode dozens of exons.
This is the first implementation of an automatic search for mutually exclusive exons in eukaryotes. Exons are predicted and reconstructed in the same run providing the complete gene structure for the protein query of interest. WebScipio offers high quality gene structure figures with the clusters of mutually exclusive exons colour-coded, and several analysis tools for further manual inspection. The genome scale analysis of all genes of the Drosophila melanogaster X chromosome showed that WebScipio is able to find all but two of the 28 annotated mutually exclusive spliced exons and predicts 39 new candidate exons. Thus, WebScipio should be able to identify mutually exclusive spliced exons in any query sequence from any species with a very high probability. WebScipio is freely available to academics at
PMCID: PMC3228551  PMID: 21718515

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