The RNA binding protein T-STAR was created following a gene triplication 520–610 million years ago, which also produced its two parologs Sam68 and SLM-1. Here we have created a T-STAR null mouse to identify the endogenous functions of this RNA binding protein. Mice null for T-STAR developed normally and were fertile, surprisingly, given the high expression of T-STAR in the testis and the brain, and the known infertility and pleiotropic defects of Sam68 null mice. Using a transcriptome-wide search for splicing targets in the adult brain, we identified T-STAR protein as a potent splicing repressor of the alternatively spliced segment 4 (AS4) exons from each of the Neurexin1-3 genes, and exon 23 of the Stxbp5l gene. T-STAR protein was most highly concentrated in forebrain-derived structures like the hippocampus, which also showed maximal Neurexin1-3 AS4 splicing repression. In the absence of endogenous T-STAR protein, Nrxn1-3 AS4 splicing repression dramatically decreased, despite physiological co-expression of Sam68. In transfected cells Neurexin3 AS4 alternative splicing was regulated by either T-STAR or Sam68 proteins. In contrast, Neurexin2 AS4 splicing was only regulated by T-STAR, through a UWAA-rich response element immediately downstream of the regulated exon conserved since the radiation of bony vertebrates. The AS4 exons in the Nrxn1 and Nrxn3 genes were also associated with distinct patterns of conserved UWAA repeats. Consistent with an ancient mechanism of splicing control, human T-STAR protein was able to repress splicing inclusion of the zebrafish Nrxn3 AS4 exon. Although Neurexin1-3 and Stxbp5l encode critical synaptic proteins, T-STAR null mice had no detectable spatial memory deficits, despite an almost complete absence of AS4 splicing repression in the hippocampus. Our work identifies T-STAR as an ancient and potent tissue-specific splicing regulator that uses a concentration-dependent mechanism to co-ordinately regulate regional splicing patterns of the Neurexin1-3 AS4 exons in the mouse brain.
Alternative splicing plays a key role in animal development and is largely controlled by the expression of RNA binding proteins. Most RNA binding proteins exist as families of sister proteins called paralogs, which result from gene amplification, including T-STAR, which is closely related to Sam68 and SLM-1. T-STAR, Sam68, and SLM-1 usually behave identically in splicing control in transfected cells. Here we report the physiological functions of T-STAR protein by knocking its parent gene out in the mouse. Surprisingly we observed no defects in germ cell maturation without T-STAR protein, an unexpected result given T-STAR protein is mainly expressed in the testis and its paralog Sam68 is essential for male fertility. Instead, we find T-STAR controls a panel of splicing targets that encode important synaptic proteins. T-STAR acts as a potent splicing repressor to establish regional splicing patterns of these target exons in the brain. Forebrain-derived structures like the hippocampus strongly express T-STAR protein to repress these target exons. Some T-STAR regulated splicing targets overlap with Sam68, but T-STAR also regulates its own distinct targets. Comparative genomic analyses are consistent with an ancient mechanism of splicing control by T-STAR that has been conserved since the radiation of bony vertebrates.