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1.  Splicing-factor oncoprotein SRSF1 stabilizes p53 via RPL5 and induces cellular senescence 
Molecular cell  2013;50(1):56-66.
SUMMARY
Splicing and translation are highly regulated steps of gene expression. Altered expression of proteins involved in these processes can be deleterious. Therefore, the cell has many safeguards against such misregulation. We report that the oncogenic splicing factor SRSF1, which is overexpressed in many cancers, stabilizes the tumor-suppressor protein p53 by abrogating its MDM2-dependent proteasomal degradation. We show that SRSF1 is a necessary component of an MDM2/ribosomal-protein complex—separate from the ribosome—that functions in a p53-dependent ribosomal-stress checkpoint pathway. Consistent with the stabilization of p53, increased SRSF1 expression in primary human fibroblasts decreases cellular proliferation and ultimately triggers oncogene-induced senescence (OIS). These findings underscore the deleterious outcome of SRSF1 overexpression and identify a cellular defense mechanism against its aberrant function. Furthermore, they implicate the RPL5-MDM2 complex in OIS, and demonstrate a link between spliceosomal and ribosomal components—functioning independently of their canonical roles—to monitor cellular physiology and cell-cycle progression.
doi:10.1016/j.molcel.2013.02.001
PMCID: PMC3628402  PMID: 23478443
2.  Pathological impact of SMN2 mis-splicing in adult SMA mice 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2013;5(10):1586-1601.
Loss-of-function mutations in SMN1 cause spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a leading genetic cause of infant mortality. The related SMN2 gene expresses suboptimal levels of functional SMN protein, due to a splicing defect. Many SMA patients reach adulthood, and there is also adult-onset (type IV) SMA. There is currently no animal model for adult-onset SMA, and the tissue-specific pathogenesis of post-developmental SMN deficiency remains elusive. Here, we use an antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) to exacerbate SMN2 mis-splicing. Intracerebroventricular ASO injection in adult SMN2-transgenic mice phenocopies key aspects of adult-onset SMA, including delayed-onset motor dysfunction and relevant histopathological features. SMN2 mis-splicing increases during late-stage disease, likely accelerating disease progression. Systemic ASO injection in adult mice causes peripheral SMN2 mis-splicing and affects prognosis, eliciting marked liver and heart pathologies, with decreased IGF1 levels. ASO dose–response and time-course studies suggest that only moderate SMN levels are required in the adult central nervous system, and treatment with a splicing-correcting ASO shows a broad therapeutic time window. We describe distinctive pathological features of adult-onset and early-onset SMA.
doi:10.1002/emmm.201302567
PMCID: PMC3799581  PMID: 24014320
adult-onset SMA; pathology; SMN2; spinal muscular atrophy; splicing
3.  OLego: fast and sensitive mapping of spliced mRNA-Seq reads using small seeds 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(10):5149-5163.
A crucial step in analyzing mRNA-Seq data is to accurately and efficiently map hundreds of millions of reads to the reference genome and exon junctions. Here we present OLego, an algorithm specifically designed for de novo mapping of spliced mRNA-Seq reads. OLego adopts a multiple-seed-and-extend scheme, and does not rely on a separate external aligner. It achieves high sensitivity of junction detection by strategic searches with small seeds (∼14 nt for mammalian genomes). To improve accuracy and resolve ambiguous mapping at junctions, OLego uses a built-in statistical model to score exon junctions by splice-site strength and intron size. Burrows–Wheeler transform is used in multiple steps of the algorithm to efficiently map seeds, locate junctions and identify small exons. OLego is implemented in C++ with fully multithreaded execution, and allows fast processing of large-scale data. We systematically evaluated the performance of OLego in comparison with published tools using both simulated and real data. OLego demonstrated better sensitivity, higher or comparable accuracy and substantially improved speed. OLego also identified hundreds of novel micro-exons (<30 nt) in the mouse transcriptome, many of which are phylogenetically conserved and can be validated experimentally in vivo. OLego is freely available at http://zhanglab.c2b2.columbia.edu/index.php/OLego.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkt216
PMCID: PMC3664805  PMID: 23571760
4.  Antisense-mediated exon inclusion 
Exon skipping induced by gene mutations is a common mechanism responsible for many genetic diseases. A practical approach to correct the aberrant splicing of defective genes is to use antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs). The recognition of splice sites and the regulation of splicing involve multiple positive or negative cis-acting elements and trans-acting factors. Base-pairing of ASOs to a negative element in a targeted pre-mRNA blocks the binding of splicing repressors to this cis-element and/or disrupts an unfavorable secondary structure; as a result, the ASO restores exon inclusion. For example, we have recently shown that appropriate 2’-O-(2-methoxyethyl) (MOE) phosphorothioate-modified ASOs can efficiently correct survival motor neuron 2 (SMN2) exon 7 splicing in a cell-free splicing assay, in cultured human cells—including patient fibroblasts—and in both peripheral tissues and the CNS of SMA mouse models. These ASOs are promising drug leads for SMA therapy.
doi:10.1007/978-1-61779-767-5_20
PMCID: PMC3390937  PMID: 22454070
Exon skipping; antisense oligonucleotide; MOE; splicing; SMN2; SMA; ESS; ISS; cis-acting element; in vitro splicing assay; minigene; exon 7 inclusion; RT-PCR; ICV; ICV infusion; mouse tissue; spinal cord; CNS
5.  SpliceTrap: a method to quantify alternative splicing under single cellular conditions 
Bioinformatics  2011;27(21):3010-3016.
Motivation: Alternative splicing (AS) is a pre-mRNA maturation process leading to the expression of multiple mRNA variants from the same primary transcript. More than 90% of human genes are expressed via AS. Therefore, quantifying the inclusion level of every exon is crucial for generating accurate transcriptomic maps and studying the regulation of AS.
Results: Here we introduce SpliceTrap, a method to quantify exon inclusion levels using paired-end RNA-seq data. Unlike other tools, which focus on full-length transcript isoforms, SpliceTrap approaches the expression-level estimation of each exon as an independent Bayesian inference problem. In addition, SpliceTrap can identify major classes of alternative splicing events under a single cellular condition, without requiring a background set of reads to estimate relative splicing changes. We tested SpliceTrap both by simulation and real data analysis, and compared it to state-of-the-art tools for transcript quantification. SpliceTrap demonstrated improved accuracy, robustness and reliability in quantifying exon-inclusion ratios.
Conclusions: SpliceTrap is a useful tool to study alternative splicing regulation, especially for accurate quantification of local exon-inclusion ratios from RNA-seq data.
Availability and Implementation: SpliceTrap can be implemented online through the CSH Galaxy server http://cancan.cshl.edu/splicetrap and is also available for download and installation at http://rulai.cshl.edu/splicetrap/.
Contact: michael.zhang@utdallas.edu
Supplementary Information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btr508
PMCID: PMC3198574  PMID: 21896509
6.  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.
doi:10.1098/rsob.120133
PMCID: PMC3498831  PMID: 23155487
alternative splicing; antisense oligonucleotides; cancer
7.  THE SPLICING FACTOR SRSF1 REGULATES APOPTOSIS AND PROLIFERATION TO PROMOTE MAMMARY EPITHELIAL CELL TRANSFORMATION 
The splicing-factor oncoprotein SRSF1 (also known as SF2/ASF) is upregulated in breast cancers. We investigated SRSF1’s ability to transform human and mouse mammary epithelial cells in vivo and in vitro. SRSF1-overexpressing COMMA-1D cells formed tumors, following orthotopic transplantation to reconstitute the mammary gland. In 3-D culture, SRSF1-overexpressing MCF-10A cells formed larger acini than control cells, reflecting increased proliferation and delayed apoptosis during acinar morphogenesis. These effects required the first RNA-recognition motif and nuclear functions of SRSF1. SRSF1 overexpression promoted alternative splicing of BIM and BIN1 isoforms that lack pro-apoptotic functions and contribute to the phenotype. Finally, SRSF1 cooperated specifically with MYC to transform mammary epithelial cells, in part by potentiating eIF4E activation, and these cooperating oncogenes are significantly co-expressed in human breast tumors. Thus, SRSF1 can promote breast cancer, and SRSF1 itself or its downstream effectors may be valuable targets for therapeutics development.
doi:10.1038/nsmb.2207
PMCID: PMC3272117  PMID: 22245967
8.  A Splicing-Independent Function of SF2/ASF in MicroRNA Processing 
Molecular Cell  2010;38(1):67-77.
SUMMARY
Both splicing factors and microRNAs are important regulatory molecules that play key roles in post-transcriptional gene regulation. By miRNA deep sequencing, we identified 40 miRNAs that are differentially expressed upon ectopic overexpression of the splicing factor SF2/ASF. Here we show that SF2/ASF and one of its upregulated microRNAs (miR-7) can form a negative feedback loop: SF2/ASF promotes miR-7 maturation, and mature miR-7 in turn targets the 3′UTR of SF2/ASF to repress its translation. Enhanced microRNA expression is mediated by direct interaction between SF2/ASF and the primary miR-7 transcript to facilitate Drosha cleavage and is independent of SF2/ASF’s function in splicing. Other miRNAs, including miR-221 and miR-222, may also be regulated by SF2/ASF through a similar mechanism. These results underscore a function of SF2/ASF in pri-miRNA processing and highlight the potential coordination between splicing control and miRNA-mediated gene repression in gene regulatory networks.
doi:10.1016/j.molcel.2010.02.021
PMCID: PMC3395997  PMID: 20385090
9.  ONCOGENIC SPLICING FACTOR SRSF1 IS A CRITICAL TRANSCRIPTIONAL TARGET OF MYC 
Cell reports  2012;1(2):110-117.
The SR protein splicing factor SRSF1 is a potent proto-oncogene that is frequently upregulated in cancer. Here we show that SRSF1 is a direct target of the transcription-factor oncoprotein MYC. These two oncogenes are significantly co-expressed in lung carcinomas, and MYC knockdown downregulates SRSF1 expression in lung-cancer cell lines. MYC directly activates transcription of SRSF1 through two non-canonical E-boxes in its promoter. The resulting increase in SRSF1 protein is sufficient to modulate alternative splicing of a subset of transcripts. In particular, MYC induction leads to SRSF1-mediated alternative splicing of the signaling kinase MKNK2 and the transcription factor TEAD1. SRSF1 knockdown reduces MYC’s oncogenic activity, decreasing proliferation and anchorage-independent growth. These results suggest a mechanism for SRSF1 upregulation in tumors with elevated MYC, and identify SRSF1 as a critical MYC target that contributes to its oncogenic potential by enabling MYC to regulate the expression of specific protein isoforms through alternative splicing.
doi:10.1016/j.celrep.2011.12.001
PMCID: PMC3334311  PMID: 22545246
11.  Exon-centric regulation of pyruvate kinase M alternative splicing via mutually exclusive exons 
Alternative splicing of the pyruvate kinase M gene (PK-M) can generate the M2 isoform and promote aerobic glycolysis and tumor growth. However, the cancer-specific alternative splicing regulation of PK-M is not completely understood. Here, we demonstrate that PK-M is regulated by reciprocal effects on the mutually exclusive exons 9 and 10, such that exon 9 is repressed and exon 10 is activated in cancer cells. Strikingly, exonic, rather than intronic, cis-elements are key determinants of PK-M splicing isoform ratios. Using a systematic sub-exonic duplication approach, we identify a potent exonic splicing enhancer in exon 10, which differs from its homologous counterpart in exon 9 by only two nucleotides. We identify SRSF3 as one of the cognate factors, and show that this serine/arginine-rich protein activates exon 10 and mediates changes in glucose metabolism. These findings provide mechanistic insights into the complex regulation of alternative splicing of a key regulator of the Warburg effect, and also have implications for other genes with a similar pattern of alternative splicing.
doi:10.1093/jmcb/mjr030
PMCID: PMC3493165  PMID: 22044881
alternative splicing; cancer metabolism; pyruvate kinase; SRSF3
12.  Antisense Oligonucleotides Delivered to the Mouse CNS Ameliorate Symptoms of Severe Spinal Muscular Atrophy 
Science translational medicine  2011;3(72):72ra18.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive neuromuscular disorder caused by mutations in the SMN1 gene that result in a deficiency of SMN protein. One approach to treat SMA is to use antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) to redirect the splicing of a paralogous gene, SMN2, to boost production of functional SMN. Injection of a 2′-O-2-methoxyethyl–modified ASO (ASO-10-27) into the cerebral lateral ventricles of mice with a severe form of SMA resulted in splice-mediated increases in SMN protein and in the number of motor neurons in the spinal cord, which led to improvements in muscle physiology, motor function and survival. Intrathecal infusion of ASO-10-27 into cynomolgus monkeys delivered putative therapeutic levels of the oligonucleotide to all regions of the spinal cord. These data demonstrate that central nervous system–directed ASO therapy is efficacious and that intrathecal infusion may represent a practical route for delivering this therapeutic in the clinic.
doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.3001777
PMCID: PMC3140425  PMID: 21368223
13.  Splicing therapeutics in SMN2 and APOB 
Splicing therapeutics are defined as the deliberate modification of RNA splicing to achieve therapeutic goals. Various techniques for splicing therapeutics have been described, and most of these involve the use of antisense oligonucleotide-based compounds that target key elements in the pre-mRNA to control splicing in the nucleus. In this review, recent developments in splicing therapeutics for the treatment of two specific diseases are described: correcting the alternative splicing of survival of motor neuron (SMN)2 pre-mRNA to compensate for the defective SMN1 gene in spinal muscular atrophy, and re-engineering the splicing of apolipoprotein B pre-mRNA to lower circulating cholesterol levels.
PMCID: PMC3140428  PMID: 19330716
Antisense oligonucleotide; APOB; apolipoprotein B; cholesterol; RNA splicing; SMN2; spinal muscular atrophy
14.  Arginine Methylation Controls the Subcellular Localization and Functions of the Oncoprotein Splicing Factor SF2/ASF▿ †  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2010;30(11):2762-2774.
Alternative splicing and posttranslational modifications (PTMs) are major sources of protein diversity in eukaryotic proteomes. The SR protein SF2/ASF is an oncoprotein that functions in pre-mRNA splicing, with additional roles in other posttranscriptional and translational events. Functional studies of SR protein PTMs have focused exclusively on the reversible phosphorylation of Ser residues in the C-terminal RS domain. We confirmed that human SF2/ASF is methylated at residues R93, R97, and R109, which were identified in a global proteomic analysis of Arg methylation, and further investigated whether these methylated residues regulate the properties of SF2/ASF. We show that the three arginines additively control the subcellular localization of SF2/ASF and that both the positive charge and the methylation state are important. Mutations that block methylation and remove the positive charge result in the cytoplasmic accumulation of SF2/ASF. The consequent decrease in nuclear SF2/ASF levels prevents it from modulating the alternative splicing of target genes, results in higher translation stimulation, and abrogates the enhancement of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay. This study addresses the mechanisms by which Arg methylation and the associated positive charge regulate the activities of SF2/ASF and emphasizes the significance of localization control for an oncoprotein with multiple functions in different cellular compartments.
doi:10.1128/MCB.01270-09
PMCID: PMC2876523  PMID: 20308322
15.  SF2/ASF Autoregulation Involves Multiple Layers of Post-transcriptional and Translational Control 
SF2/ASF is a prototypical SR protein, with important roles in splicing and other aspects of mRNA metabolism. SFRS1 (SF2/ASF) is a potent proto-oncogene with abnormal expression in many tumors. We found that SF2/ASF negatively autoregulates its expression to maintain homeostatic levels. We characterized six SF2/ASF alternatively spliced mRNA isoforms: the major isoform encodes full-length protein, whereas the others are either retained in the nucleus or degraded by NMD. Unproductive splicing accounts for only part of the autoregulation, which occurs primarily at the translational level. The effect is specific to SF2/ASF and requires RRM2. The ultraconserved 3′UTR is necessary and sufficient for downregulation. SF2/ASF overexpression shifts the distribution of target mRNA towards mono-ribosomes, and translational repression is partly independent of Dicer and a 5′ cap. Thus, multiple post-transcriptional and translational mechanisms are involved in fine-tuning the expression of SF2/ASF.
doi:10.1038/nsmb.1750
PMCID: PMC2921916  PMID: 20139984
16.  Tetracyclines That Promote SMN2 Exon 7 Splicing as Therapeutics for Spinal Muscular Atrophy 
There is at present no cure or effective therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a neurodegenerative disease that is the leading genetic cause of infant mortality. SMA usually results from loss of the SMN1 (survival of motor neuron 1) gene, which leads to selective motor neuron degeneration. SMN2 is nearly identical to SMN1 but has a nucleotide replacement that causes exon 7 skipping, resulting in a truncated, unstable version of the SMA protein. SMN2 is present in all SMA patients, and correcting SMN2 splicing is a promising approach for SMA therapy. We identified a tetracycline-like compound, PTK-SMA1, which stimulates exon 7 splicing and increases SMN protein levels in vitro and in vivo in mice. Unlike previously identified molecules that stimulate SMN production via SMN2 promoter activation or undefined mechanisms, PTK-SMA1 is a unique therapeutic candidate in that it acts by directly stimulating splicing of exon 7. Synthetic small-molecule compounds such as PTK-SMA1 offer an alternative to antisense oligonucleotide therapies that are being developed as therapeutics for a number of disease-associated splicing defects.
doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.3000208
PMCID: PMC2818805  PMID: 20161659
17.  Cooperative-Binding and Splicing-Repressive Properties of hnRNP A1▿ † 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2009;29(20):5620-5631.
hnRNP A1 binds to RNA in a cooperative manner. Initial hnRNP A1 binding to an exonic splicing silencer at the 3′ end of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) tat exon 3, which is a high-affinity site, is followed by cooperative spreading in a 3′-to-5′ direction. As hnRNP A1 propagates toward the 5′ end of the exon, it antagonizes binding of a serine/arginine-rich (SR) protein to an exonic splicing enhancer, thereby inhibiting splicing at that exon's alternative 3′ splice site. tat exon 3 and the preceding intron of HIV-1 pre-mRNA can fold into an elaborate RNA secondary structure in solution, which could potentially influence hnRNP A1 binding. We report here that hnRNP A1 binding and splicing repression can occur on an unstructured RNA. Moreover, hnRNP A1 can effectively unwind an RNA hairpin upon binding, displacing a bound protein. We further show that hnRNP A1 can also spread in a 5′-to-3′ direction, although when initial binding takes place in the middle of an RNA, spreading preferentially proceeds in a 3′-to-5′ direction. Finally, when two distant high-affinity sites are present on the same RNA, they facilitate cooperative spreading of hnRNP A1 between the two sites.
doi:10.1128/MCB.01678-08
PMCID: PMC2756886  PMID: 19667073
18.  Recognition of atypical 5' splice sites by shifted base-pairing to U1 snRNA 
Accurate pre-mRNA splicing is critical for gene expression. The 5' splice site (5' ss) — the highly diverse element at the 5' end of introns — is initially recognized via base-pairing to the 5' end of U1 small nuclear RNA (snRNA). However, many natural 5' ss have a very poor match to the consensus sequence, and are predicted to be very weak. Using genetic suppression experiments in human cells, we demonstrate that some atypical 5' ss are actually efficiently recognized by U1, in an alternative base-pairing register that is shifted by one nucleotide. These atypical 5' ss are phylogenetically widespread, and many of them are conserved. Moreover, shifted base-pairing provides an explanation for the effect of a 5' ss mutation associated with pontocerebellar hypoplasia. The unexpected flexibility in 5' ss/U1 base-pairing challenges an established paradigm, and has broad implications for splice-site prediction algorithms and gene-annotation efforts in genome projects.
doi:10.1038/nsmb.1546
PMCID: PMC2719486  PMID: 19169258
19.  Kaposi's Sarcoma-Associated Herpesvirus ORF57 Functions as a Viral Splicing Factor and Promotes Expression of Intron-Containing Viral Lytic Genes in Spliceosome-Mediated RNA Splicing▿  
Journal of Virology  2008;82(6):2792-2801.
Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) ORF57 facilitates the expression of both intronless viral ORF59 genes and intron-containing viral K8 and K8.1 genes (V. Majerciak, N. Pripuzova, J. P. McCoy, S. J. Gao, and Z. M. Zheng, J. Virol. 81:1062-1071, 2007). In this study, we showed that disruption of ORF57 in a KSHV genome led to increased accumulation of ORF50 and K8 pre-mRNAs and reduced expression of ORF50 and K-bZIP proteins but had no effect on latency-associated nuclear antigen (LANA). Cotransfection of ORF57 and K8β cDNA, which retains a suboptimal intron of K8 pre-mRNA due to alternative splicing, promoted RNA splicing of K8β and production of K8α (K-bZIP). Although Epstein-Barr virus EB2, a closely related homolog of ORF57, had a similar activity in the cotransfection assays, herpes simplex virus type 1 ICP27 was inactive. This enhancement of RNA splicing by ORF57 correlates with the intact N-terminal nuclear localization signal motifs of ORF57 and takes place in the absence of other viral proteins. In activated KSHV-infected B cells, KSHV ORF57 partially colocalizes with splicing factors in nuclear speckles and assembles into spliceosomal complexes in association with low-abundance viral ORF50 and K8 pre-mRNAs and essential splicing components. The association of ORF57 with snRNAs occurs by ORF57-Sm protein interaction. We also found that ORF57 binds K8β pre-mRNAs in vitro in the presence of nuclear extracts. Collectively our data indicate that KSHV ORF57 functions as a novel splicing factor in the spliceosome-mediated splicing of viral RNA transcripts.
doi:10.1128/JVI.01856-07
PMCID: PMC2258979  PMID: 18184716
20.  Identification of Synaptic Targets of Drosophila Pumilio 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(2):e1000026.
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.
Author Summary
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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000026
PMCID: PMC2265480  PMID: 18463699
21.  Deletion of the N-terminus of SF2/ASF Permits RS-Domain-Independent Pre-mRNA Splicing 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(9):e854.
Serine/arginine-rich (SR) proteins are essential splicing factors with one or two RNA-recognition motifs (RRMs) and a C-terminal arginine- and serine-rich (RS) domain. SR proteins bind to exonic splicing enhancers via their RRM(s), and from this position are thought to promote splicing by antagonizing splicing silencers, recruiting other components of the splicing machinery through RS-RS domain interactions, and/or promoting RNA base-pairing through their RS domains. An RS domain tethered at an exonic splicing enhancer can function as a splicing activator, and RS domains play prominent roles in current models of SR protein functions. However, we previously reported that the RS domain of the SR protein SF2/ASF is dispensable for in vitro splicing of some pre-mRNAs. We have now extended these findings via the identification of a short inhibitory domain at the SF2/ASF N-terminus; deletion of this segment permits splicing in the absence of this SR protein's RS domain of an IgM pre-mRNA substrate previously classified as RS-domain-dependent. Deletion of the N-terminal inhibitory domain increases the splicing activity of SF2/ASF lacking its RS domain, and enhances its ability to bind pre-mRNA. Splicing of the IgM pre-mRNA in S100 complementation with SF2/ASF lacking its RS domain still requires an exonic splicing enhancer, suggesting that an SR protein RS domain is not always required for ESE-dependent splicing activation. Our data provide additional evidence that the SF2/ASF RS domain is not strictly required for constitutive splicing in vitro, contrary to prevailing models for how the domains of SR proteins function to promote splicing.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000854
PMCID: PMC1952110  PMID: 17786225
22.  Control of Pre-mRNA Splicing by the General Splicing Factors PUF60 and U2AF65 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(6):e538.
Pre-mRNA splicing is a crucial step in gene expression, and accurate recognition of splice sites is an essential part of this process. Splice sites with weak matches to the consensus sequences are common, though it is not clear how such sites are efficiently utilized. Using an in vitro splicing-complementation approach, we identified PUF60 as a factor that promotes splicing of an intron with a weak 3′ splice-site. PUF60 has homology to U2AF65, a general splicing factor that facilitates 3′ splice-site recognition at the early stages of spliceosome assembly. We demonstrate that PUF60 can functionally substitute for U2AF65 in vitro, but splicing is strongly stimulated by the presence of both proteins. Reduction of either PUF60 or U2AF65 in cells alters the splicing pattern of endogenous transcripts, consistent with the idea that regulation of PUF60 and U2AF65 levels can dictate alternative splicing patterns. Our results indicate that recognition of 3′ splice sites involves different U2AF-like molecules, and that modulation of these general splicing factors can have profound effects on splicing.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000538
PMCID: PMC1888729  PMID: 17579712
23.  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.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkm402
PMCID: PMC1934990  PMID: 17576681
24.  A novel histone exchange factor, protein phosphatase 2Cγ, mediates the exchange and dephosphorylation of H2A–H2B 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2006;175(3):389-400.
In eukaryotic nuclei, DNA is wrapped around a protein octamer composed of the core histones H2A, H2B, H3, and H4, forming nucleosomes as the fundamental units of chromatin. The modification and deposition of specific histone variants play key roles in chromatin function. In this study, we established an in vitro system based on permeabilized cells that allows the assembly and exchange of histones in situ. H2A and H2B, each tagged with green fluorescent protein (GFP), are incorporated into euchromatin by exchange independently of DNA replication, and H3.1-GFP is assembled into replicated chromatin, as found in living cells. By purifying the cellular factors that assist in the incorporation of H2A–H2B, we identified protein phosphatase (PP) 2C γ subtype (PP2Cγ/PPM1G) as a histone chaperone that binds to and dephosphorylates H2A–H2B. The disruption of PP2Cγ in chicken DT40 cells increased the sensitivity to caffeine, a reagent that disturbs DNA replication and damage checkpoints, suggesting the involvement of PP2Cγ-mediated histone dephosphorylation and exchange in damage response or checkpoint recovery in higher eukaryotes.
doi:10.1083/jcb.200608001
PMCID: PMC2064517  PMID: 17074886
25.  Enhancement of SMN2 Exon 7 Inclusion by Antisense Oligonucleotides Targeting the Exon 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(4):e73.
Several strategies have been pursued to increase the extent of exon 7 inclusion during splicing of SMN2 (survival of motor neuron 2) transcripts, for eventual therapeutic use in spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic neuromuscular disease. Antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that target an exon or its flanking splice sites usually promote exon skipping. Here we systematically tested a large number of ASOs with a 2′-O-methoxy-ethyl ribose (MOE) backbone that hybridize to different positions of SMN2 exon 7, and identified several that promote greater exon inclusion, others that promote exon skipping, and still others with complex effects on the accumulation of the two alternatively spliced products. This approach provides positional information about presumptive exonic elements or secondary structures with positive or negative effects on exon inclusion. The ASOs are effective not only in cell-free splicing assays, but also when transfected into cultured cells, where they affect splicing of endogenous SMN transcripts. The ASOs that promote exon 7 inclusion increase full-length SMN protein levels, demonstrating that they do not interfere with mRNA export or translation, despite hybridizing to an exon. Some of the ASOs we identified are sufficiently active to proceed with experiments in SMA mouse models.
Author Summary
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a severe genetic disease that causes motor-neuron degeneration. SMA patients lack a functional SMN1 (survival of motor neuron 1) gene, but they possess an intact SMN2 gene, which though nearly identical to SMN1, is only partially functional. The defect in SMN2 gene expression is at the level of pre-mRNA splicing (skipping of exon 7), and the presence of this gene in all SMA patients makes it an attractive target for potential therapy. Here we have surveyed a large number of antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that are complementary to different regions of exon 7 in the SMN2 mRNA. A few of these ASOs are able to correct the pre-mRNA splicing defect, presumably because they bind to regions of exon 7 that form RNA structures, or provide protein-binding sites, that normally weaken the recognition of this exon by the splicing machinery in the cell nucleus. We describe optimal ASOs that promote correct expression of SMN2 mRNA and, therefore, normal SMN protein, in cultured cells from SMA patients. These ASOs can now be tested in mouse models of SMA, and may be useful for SMA therapy.
Mutations inSMN1 cause spinal muscular atrophy; a nearly identical gene is not functional, but becomes functional in vitro and in vivo after addition of antisense oligos.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050073
PMCID: PMC1820610  PMID: 17355180

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