Drosophila Pumilio (Pum) protein is a translational regulator involved in embryonic patterning and germline development. Recent findings demonstrate that Pum also plays an important role in the nervous system, both at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) and in long-term memory formation. In neurons, Pum appears to play a role in homeostatic control of excitability via down regulation of para, a voltage gated sodium channel, and may more generally modulate local protein synthesis in neurons via translational repression of eIF-4E. Aside from these, the biologically relevant targets of Pum in the nervous system remain largely unknown. We hypothesized that Pum might play a role in regulating the local translation underlying synapse-specific modifications during memory formation. To identify relevant translational targets, we used an informatics approach to predict Pum targets among mRNAs whose products have synaptic localization. We then used both in vitro binding and two in vivo assays to functionally confirm the fidelity of this informatics screening method. We find that Pum strongly and specifically binds to RNA sequences in the 3′UTR of four of the predicted target genes, demonstrating the validity of our method. We then demonstrate that one of these predicted target sequences, in the 3′UTR of discs large (dlg1), the Drosophila PSD95 ortholog, can functionally substitute for a canonical NRE (Nanos response element) in vivo in a heterologous functional assay. Finally, we show that the endogenous dlg1 mRNA can be regulated by Pumilio in a neuronal context, the adult mushroom bodies (MB), which is an anatomical site of memory storage.
The Drosophila Pumilio (Pum) protein was originally identified as a translational control factor for embryo patterning. Subsequent studies have identified Pum's role in multiple biological processes, including the maintenance of germline stem cell, the proliferation and migration of primordial germ cells, olfactory leaning and memory, and synaptic plasticity. Pum is highly conserved across phyla, i.e., from worm to human; however, the mRNA targets of Pum within each tissue and organism are largely unknown. On the other hand, the prediction of RNA binding sites remains a hard question in the computational field. We were interested in finding Pum targets in the nervous system using fruit flies as a model organism. To accomplish this, we used the few Pum binding sequences that had previously been shown in vivo as “training sequences” to construct bioinformatic models of the Pum binding site. We then predicted a few Pum mRNA targets among the genes known to function in neuronal synapses. We then used a combination of “golden standards” to verify these predictions: a biochemical assay called gel shifts, and in vivo functional assays both in embryo and neurons. With these approaches, we successfully confirmed one of the targets as Dlg, which is the Drosophila ortholog of human PSD95. Therefore, we present a complete story from computational study to real biological functions.