The RNA-guided endonuclease Cas9 generates a double-strand break at DNA target sites complementary to the guide RNA and has been harnessed for the development of a variety of new technologies, such as genome editing. Here, we report the crystal structures of Campylobacter jejuni Cas9 (CjCas9), one of the smallest Cas9 orthologs, in complex with an sgRNA and its target DNA. The structures provided insights into a minimal Cas9 scaffold and revealed the remarkable mechanistic diversity of the CRISPR-Cas9 systems. The CjCas9 guide RNA contains a triple-helix structure, which is distinct from known RNA triple helices, thereby expanding the natural repertoire of RNA triple helices. Furthermore, unlike the other Cas9 orthologs, CjCas9 contacts the nucleotide sequences in both the target and non-target DNA strands and recognizes the 5′-NNNVRYM-3′ as the protospacer-adjacent motif. Collectively, these findings improve our mechanistic understanding of the CRISPR-Cas9 systems and may facilitate Cas9 engineering.
PIWI-clade Argonaute proteins associate with PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) and silence transposable elements in animal gonads. Here, we report the crystal structure of a silkworm PIWI-clade Argonaute, Siwi, bound to the endogenous piRNA, at 2.4 Å resolution. Siwi adopts a bilobed architecture consisting of N-PAZ and MID-PIWI lobes, in which the 5' and 3' ends of the bound piRNA are anchored by the MID-PIWI and PAZ domains, respectively. A structural comparison of Siwi with AGO-clade Argonautes reveals notable differences in their nucleic-acid-binding channels, likely reflecting the distinct lengths of their guide RNAs and their mechanistic differences in guide RNA loading and cleavage product release. In addition, the structure reveals that Siwi and prokaryotic, but not eukaryotic, AGO-clade Argonautes share unexpected similarities, such as metal-dependent 5'-phosphate recognition and a potential structural transition during the catalytic-tetrad formation. Overall, this study provides a critical starting point toward a mechanistic understanding of piRNA-mediated transposon silencing.
Paraspeckles are nuclear bodies built on the long noncoding RNA Neat1, which regulates a variety of physiological processes including cancer progression and corpus luteum formation. To obtain further insight into the molecular basis of the function of paraspeckles, we performed fine structural analyses of these nuclear bodies using structural illumination microscopy. Notably, paraspeckle proteins are found within different layers along the radially arranged bundles of Neat1 transcripts, forming a characteristic core-shell spheroidal structure. In cells lacking the RNA binding protein Fus, paraspeckle spheroids are disassembled into smaller particles containing Neat1, which are diffusely distributed in the nucleoplasm. Sequencing analysis of RNAs purified from paraspeckles revealed that AG-rich transcripts associate with Neat1, which are distributed along the shell of the paraspeckle spheroids. We propose that paraspeckles sequester core components inside the spheroids, whereas the outer surface associates with other components in the nucleoplasm to fulfill their function.
Pluripotent stem cells can be classified into two distinct states, naïve and primed, which show different degrees of potency. One difficulty in stem cell research is the inability to distinguish these states in live cells. Studies on female mice have shown that reactivation of inactive X chromosomes occurs in the naïve state, while one of the X chromosomes is inactivated in the primed state. Therefore, we tried to distinguish the two states by monitoring X chromosome reactivation. Thus far, X chromosome reactivation has been analysed using fixed cells; here, we inserted different fluorescent reporter gene cassettes (mCherry and eGFP) into each X chromosome. Using these knock-in "MOMIJI" mice, we detected X chromosome reactivation accurately in live embryos, and confirmed that the pluripotent states of embryos were stable ex vivo, as represented by embryonic and epiblast stem cells in terms of X chromosome reactivation. Thus, MOMIJI mice provide a simple and accurate method for identifying stem cell status based on X chromosome reactivation.
The mammalian cell nucleus contains membraneless suborganelles referred to as nuclear bodies (NBs). Some NBs are formed with an architectural RNA (arcRNA) as the structural core. Here, we searched for new NBs that are built on unidentified arcRNAs by screening for ribonuclease (RNase)-sensitive NBs using 32,651 fluorescently tagged human cDNA clones. We identified 32 tagged proteins that required RNA for their localization in distinct nuclear foci. Among them, seven RNA-binding proteins commonly localized in the Sam68 nuclear body (SNB), which was disrupted by RNase treatment. Knockdown of each SNB protein revealed that SNBs are composed of two distinct RNase-sensitive substructures. One substructure is present as a distinct NB, termed the DBC1 body, in certain conditions, and the more dynamic substructure including Sam68 joins to form the intact SNB. HNRNPL acts as the adaptor to combine the two substructures and form the intact SNB through the interaction of two sets of RNA recognition motifs with the putative arcRNAs in the respective substructures.
Efficient maturation of transfer RNAs (tRNAs) is required for rapid cell growth. However, the precise timing of tRNA processing in coordination with the order of tRNA modifications has not been thoroughly elucidated. To analyze the modification status of tRNA precursors (pre-tRNAs) during maturation, we isolated pre-tRNAs at various stages from Saccharomyces cerevisiae and subjected them to MS analysis. We detected methylated guanosine cap structures at the 5' termini of pre-tRNAs bearing 5' leader sequences. These capped pre-tRNAs accumulated substantially after inhibition of RNase P activity. Upon depletion of the capping enzyme Ceg1p, the steady state level of capped pre-tRNA was markedly reduced. In addition, a population of capped pre-tRNAs accumulated in strains in which 5' exonucleases were inhibited, indicating that the 5' cap structures protect pre-tRNAs from 5'-exonucleolytic degradation during maturation.
The long noncoding RNA Gomafu/MIAT/Rncr2 is thought to function in retinal cell specification, stem cell differentiation and the control of alternative splicing. To further investigate physiological functions of Gomafu, we created mouse knockout (KO) model that completely lacks the Gomafu gene. The KO mice did not exhibit any developmental deficits. However, behavioral tests revealed that the KO mice are hyperactive. This hyperactive behavior was enhanced when the KO mice were treated with the psychostimulant methamphetamine, which was associated with an increase in dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. RNA sequencing analyses identified a small number of genes affected by the deficiency of Gomafu, a subset of which are known to have important neurobiological functions. These observations suggest that Gomafu modifies mouse behavior thorough a mild modulation of gene expression and/or alternative splicing of target genes.
In human mitochondria, the AUA codon encodes methionine via a mitochondrial transfer RNA for methionine (mt-tRNA(Met)) that contains 5-formylcytidine (f(5)C) at the first position of the anticodon (position 34). f(5)C34 is required for deciphering the AUA codon during protein synthesis. Until now, the biogenesis and physiological role of f(5)C34 were unknown. We demonstrate that biogenesis of f(5)C34 is initiated by S-adenosylmethionine (AdoMet)-dependent methylation catalyzed by NSUN3, a putative methyltransferase in mitochondria. NSUN3-knockout cells showed strong reduction in mitochondrial protein synthesis and reduced oxygen consumption, leading to deficient mitochondrial activity. We reconstituted formation of 5-methylcytidine (m(5)C) at position 34 (m(5)C34) on mt-tRNA(Met) with recombinant NSUN3 in the presence of AdoMet, demonstrating that NSUN3-mediated m(5)C34 formation initiates f(5)C34 biogenesis. We also found two disease-associated point mutations in mt-tRNA(Met) that impaired m(5)C34 formation by NSUN3, indicating that a lack of f(5)C34 has pathological consequences.
Alternative splicing generates protein diversity essential for neuronal properties. However, the precise mechanisms underlying this process and its relevance to physiological and behavioural functions are poorly understood. To address these issues, we focused on a cassette exon of the Caenorhabditis elegans insulin receptor gene daf-2, whose proper variant expression in the taste receptor neuron ASER is critical for taste-avoidance learning. We show that inclusion of daf-2 exon 11.5 is restricted to specific neuron types, including ASER, and is controlled by a combinatorial action of evolutionarily conserved alternative splicing factors, RBFOX, CELF and PTB families of proteins. Mutations of these factors cause a learning defect, and this defect is relieved by DAF-2c (exon 11.5+) isoform expression only in a single neuron ASER. Our results provide evidence that alternative splicing regulation of a single critical gene in a single critical neuron is essential for learning ability in an organism.
Cpf1 is an RNA-guided endonuclease of a type V CRISPR-Cas system that has been recently harnessed for genome editing. Here, we report the crystal structure of Acidaminococcus sp. Cpf1 (AsCpf1) in complex with the guide RNA and its target DNA at 2.8 Å resolution. AsCpf1 adopts a bilobed architecture, with the RNA-DNA heteroduplex bound inside the central channel. The structural comparison of AsCpf1 with Cas9, a type II CRISPR-Cas nuclease, reveals both striking similarity and major differences, thereby explaining their distinct functionalities. AsCpf1 contains the RuvC domain and a putative novel nuclease domain, which are responsible for cleaving the non-target and target strands, respectively, and for jointly generating staggered DNA double-strand breaks. AsCpf1 recognizes the 5'-TTTN-3' protospacer adjacent motif by base and shape readout mechanisms. Our findings provide mechanistic insights into RNA-guided DNA cleavage by Cpf1 and establish a framework for rational engineering of the CRISPR-Cpf1 toolbox.