The gene encoding a DNA/RNA binding protein FUS/TLS is frequently mutated in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Mutations commonly affect its carboxy-terminal nuclear localization signal, resulting in varying deficiencies of FUS nuclear localization and abnormal cytoplasmic accumulation. Increasing evidence suggests deficiencies in FUS nuclear function may contribute to neuron degeneration. Here we report a novel FUS autoregulatory mechanism and its deficiency in ALS-associated mutants. Using FUS CLIP-seq, we identified significant FUS binding to a highly conserved region of exon 7 and the flanking introns of its own pre-mRNAs. We demonstrated that FUS is a repressor of exon 7 splicing and that the exon 7-skipped splice variant is subject to nonsense-mediated decay (NMD). Overexpression of FUS led to the repression of exon 7 splicing and a reduction of endogenous FUS protein. Conversely, the repression of exon 7 was reduced by knockdown of FUS protein, and moreover, it was rescued by expression of EGFP-FUS. This dynamic regulation of alternative splicing describes a novel mechanism of FUS autoregulation. Given that ALS-associated FUS mutants are deficient in nuclear localization, we examined whether cells expressing these mutants would be deficient in repressing exon 7 splicing. We showed that FUS harbouring R521G, R522G or ΔExon15 mutation (minor, moderate or severe cytoplasmic localization, respectively) directly correlated with respectively increasing deficiencies in both exon 7 repression and autoregulation of its own protein levels. These data suggest that compromised FUS autoregulation can directly exacerbate the pathogenic accumulation of cytoplasmic FUS protein in ALS. We showed that exon 7 skipping can be induced by antisense oligonucleotides targeting its flanking splice sites, indicating the potential to alleviate abnormal cytoplasmic FUS accumulation in ALS. Taken together, FUS autoregulation by alternative splicing provides insight into a molecular mechanism by which FUS-regulated pre-mRNA processing can impact a significant number of targets important to neurodegeneration.
FUS/TLS is a frequently mutated gene in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is characterized by a progressive degeneration of motor neurons. The abnormal cytoplasmic accumulation of mutant FUS protein is a characteristic pathology of ALS; however, recent evidence increasingly suggests deficiencies in FUS nuclear function may also contribute to neurodegeneration in ALS. Here we report a novel autoregulatory mechanism of FUS by alternative splicing and nonsense mediated decay (NMD). We show FUS binds to exon 7 and flanking introns of its own pre-mRNAs. This results in exon skipping, inducing a reading frame shift and subsequent degradation of the splice variants. As such, this mechanism provides a feedback loop that controls the homeostasis of FUS protein levels. This balance is disrupted in ALS-associated FUS mutants, which are deficient in nuclear localization and FUS-dependent alternative splicing. As a result, the abnormal accumulation of mutant FUS protein in ALS neurons goes unchecked and uncontrolled. Our study provides novel insight into the molecular mechanism by which FUS regulates gene expression and new understanding of the role of FUS in disease at the molecular level. This may lead to new potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of ALS.