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1.  Exonic splicing signals impose constraints upon the evolution of enzymatic activity 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(9):5790-5798.
Exon splicing enhancers (ESEs) overlap with amino acid coding sequences implying a dual evolutionary selective pressure. In this study, we map ESEs in the placental alkaline phosphatase gene (ALPP), absent in the corresponding exon of the ancestral tissue-non-specific alkaline phosphatase gene (ALPL). The ESEs are associated with amino acid differences between the transcripts in an area otherwise conserved. We switched out the ALPP ESEs sequences with the sequence from the related ALPL, introducing the associated amino acid changes. The resulting enzymes, produced by cDNA expression, showed different kinetic characteristics than ALPL and ALPP. In the organism, this enzyme will never be subjected to selection because gene splicing analysis shows exon skipping due to loss of the ESE. Our data prove that ESEs restrict the evolution of enzymatic activity. Thus, suboptimal proteins may exist in scenarios when coding nucleotide changes and consequent amino acid variation cannot be reconciled with the splicing function.
PMCID: PMC4027185  PMID: 24692663
2.  Predominance of spliceosomal complex formation over polyadenylation site selection in TDP-43 autoregulation 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;42(5):3362-3371.
TDP-43 is a nuclear protein involved in many aspects of RNA metabolism. To ensure cellular viability, its expression levels within cells must be tightly regulated. We have previously demonstrated that TDP-43 autoregulation occurs through the activation of a normally silent intron in its 3′-UTR sequence that results in the use of alternative polyadenylation sites. In this work, we analyse which is the dominant event in autoregulation: the recognition of the splice sites of 3′-UTR intron 7 or the intrinsic quality of the alternative polyadenylation sites. A panel of minigene constructs was tested for autoregulation functionality, protein production and subcellular messenger RNA localization. Our data clearly indicate that constitutive spliceosome complex formation across intron 7 does not lead to high protein production but, on the contrary, to lower TDP-43 messenger RNA and protein levels. This is due to altered nucleocytoplasmic distribution of the RNA that is mostly retained in the nucleus and degraded. This study provides a novel in-depth characterization of how RNA binding proteins can autoregulate their own levels within cells, an essential regulatory process in maintaining cellular viability.
PMCID: PMC3950720  PMID: 24369426
3.  Mutually exclusive splicing regulates the Nav 1.6 sodium channel function through a combinatorial mechanism that involves three distinct splicing regulatory elements and their ligands 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(13):6255-6269.
Mutually exclusive splicing is a form of alternative pre-mRNA processing that consists in the use of only one of a set of two or more exons. We have investigated the mechanisms involved in this process for exon 18 of the Nav 1.6 sodium channel transcript and its significance regarding gene-expression regulation. The 18N exon (neonatal form) has a stop codon in phase and although the mRNA can be detected by amplification methods, the truncated protein has not been observed. The switch from 18N to 18A (adult form) occurs only in a restricted set of neural tissues producing the functional channel while other tissues display the mRNA with the 18N exon also in adulthood. We demonstrate that the mRNA species carrying the stop codon is subjected to Nonsense-Mediated Decay, providing a control mechanism of channel expression. We also map a string of cis-elements within the mutually exclusive exons and in the flanking introns responsible for their strict tissue and temporal specificity. These elements bind a series of positive (RbFox-1, SRSF1, SRSF2) and negative (hnRNPA1, PTB, hnRNPA2/B1, hnRNPD-like JKTBP) splicing regulatory proteins. These splicing factors, with the exception of RbFox-1, are ubiquitous but their levels vary during development and differentiation, ensuing unique sets of tissue and temporal levels of splicing factors. The combinatorial nature of these elements is highlighted by the dominance of the elements that bind the ubiquitous factors over the tissue specific RbFox-1.
PMCID: PMC3401437  PMID: 22434879
4.  Aberrant 5′ splice sites in human disease genes: mutation pattern, nucleotide structure and comparison of computational tools that predict their utilization 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(13):4250-4263.
Despite a growing number of splicing mutations found in hereditary diseases, utilization of aberrant splice sites and their effects on gene expression remain challenging to predict. We compiled sequences of 346 aberrant 5′splice sites (5′ss) that were activated by mutations in 166 human disease genes. Mutations within the 5′ss consensus accounted for 254 cryptic 5′ss and mutations elsewhere activated 92 de novo 5′ss. Point mutations leading to cryptic 5′ss activation were most common in the first intron nucleotide, followed by the fifth nucleotide. Substitutions at position +5 were exclusively G>A transitions, which was largely attributable to high mutability rates of C/G>T/A. However, the frequency of point mutations at position +5 was significantly higher than that observed in the Human Gene Mutation Database, suggesting that alterations of this position are particularly prone to aberrant splicing, possibly due to a requirement for sequential interactions with U1 and U6 snRNAs. Cryptic 5′ss were best predicted by computational algorithms that accommodate nucleotide dependencies and not by weight-matrix models. Discrimination of intronic 5′ss from their authentic counterparts was less effective than for exonic sites, as the former were intrinsically stronger than the latter. Computational prediction of exonic de novo 5′ss was poor, suggesting that their activation critically depends on exonic splicing enhancers or silencers. The authentic counterparts of aberrant 5′ss were significantly weaker than the average human 5′ss. The development of an online database of aberrant 5′ss will be useful for studying basic mechanisms of splice-site selection, identifying splicing mutations and optimizing splice-site prediction algorithms.
PMCID: PMC1934990  PMID: 17576681
5.  Defective splicing, disease and therapy: searching for master checkpoints in exon definition 
Nucleic Acids Research  2006;34(12):3494-3510.
The number of aberrant splicing processes causing human disease is growing exponentially and many recent studies have uncovered some aspects of the unexpectedly complex network of interactions involved in these dysfunctions. As a consequence, our knowledge of the various cis- and trans-acting factors playing a role on both normal and aberrant splicing pathways has been enhanced greatly. However, the resulting information explosion has also uncovered the fact that many splicing systems are not easy to model. In fact we are still unable, with certainty, to predict the outcome of a given genomic variation. Nonetheless, in the midst of all this complexity some hard won lessons have been learned and in this survey we will focus on the importance of the wide sequence context when trying to understand why apparently similar mutations can give rise to different effects. The examples discussed in this summary will highlight the fine ‘balance of power’ that is often present between all the various regulatory elements that define exon boundaries. In the final part, we shall then discuss possible therapeutic targets and strategies to rescue genetic defects of complex splicing systems.
PMCID: PMC1524908  PMID: 16855287
6.  hnRNP H binding at the 5′ splice site correlates with the pathological effect of two intronic mutations in the NF-1 and TSHβ genes 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(14):4224-4236.
We have recently reported a disease-causing substitution (+5G > C) at the donor site of NF-1 exon 3 that produces its skipping. We have now studied in detail the splicing mechanism involved in analyzing RNA–protein complexes at several 5′ splice sites. Characteristic protein patterns were observed by pulldown and band-shift/super-shift analysis. Here, we show that hnRNP H binds specifically to the wild-type GGGgu donor sequence of the NF-1 exon 3. Depletion analyses shows that this protein restricts the accessibility of U1 small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (U1snRNA) to the donor site. In this context, the +5G > C mutation abolishes both U1snRNP base pairing and the 5′ splice site (5′ss) function. However, exon recognition in the mutant can be rescued by disrupting the binding of hnRNP H, demonstrating that this protein enhances the effects of the +5G > C substitution. Significantly, a similar situation was found for a second disease-causing +5G > A substitution in the 5′ss of TSHβ exon 2, which harbors a GGgu donor sequence. Thus, the reason why similar nucleotide substitutions can be either neutral or very disruptive of splicing function can be explained by the presence of specific binding signatures depending on local contexts.
PMCID: PMC514374  PMID: 15299088
7.  Congenital Insensitivity to Pain: Novel SCN9A Missense and In-Frame Deletion Mutations 
Human Mutation  2010;31(9):1670-1686.
SCN9A encodes the voltage-gated sodium channel Nav1.7, a protein highly expressed in pain-sensing neurons. Mutations in SCN9A cause three human pain disorders: bi-allelic loss of function mutations result in Channelopathy-associated Insensitivity to Pain (CIP), whereas activating mutations cause severe episodic pain in Paroxysmal Extreme Pain Disorder (PEPD) and Primary Erythermalgia (PE). To date, all mutations in SCN9A that cause a complete inability to experience pain are protein truncating and presumably lead to no protein being produced. Here, we describe the identification and functional characterization of two novel non-truncating mutations in families with CIP: a homozygously-inherited missense mutation found in a consanguineous Israeli Bedouin family (Nav1.7-R896Q) and a five amino acid in-frame deletion found in a sporadic compound heterozygote (Nav1.7-ΔR1370-L1374). Both of these mutations map to the pore region of the Nav1.7 sodium channel. Using transient transfection of PC12 cells we found a significant reduction in membrane localization of the mutant protein compared to the wild type. Furthermore, voltage clamp experiments of mutant-transfected HEK293 cells show a complete loss of function of the sodium channel, consistent with the absence of pain phenotype. In summary, this study has identified critical amino acids needed for the normal subcellular localization and function of Nav1.7. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
PMCID: PMC2966863  PMID: 20635406
SCN9A; Sodium channel Nav1.7; congenital insensitivity to pain; channelopathy

Results 1-7 (7)