黒柳 秀人 (KUROYANAGI, Hidehito)

黒柳 秀人 (KUROYANAGI, Hidehito)

東京医科歯科大学 難治疾患研究所 准教授
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A nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is an intron-rich organism and up to 25% of its pre-mRNAs are estimated to be alternatively processed. Its compact genomic organization enables construction of fluorescence splicing reporters with intact genomic sequences and visualization of alternative processing patterns of interest in the transparent living animals with single-cell resolution. Genetic analysis with the reporter worms facilitated identification of trans-acting factors and cis-acting elements, which are highly conserved in mammals. Analysis of unspliced and partially spliced pre-mRNAs in vivo raised models for alternative splicing regulation relying on specific order of intron excision. RNA-seq analysis of splicing factor mutants and CLIP-seq analysis of the factors allow global search for target genes in the whole animal. An mRNA surveillance system is not essential for its viability or fertility, allowing analysis of unproductively spliced noncoding mRNAs. These features offer C. elegans as an ideal model organism for elucidating alternative pre-mRNA processing mechanisms in vivo. Examples of isoform-specific functions of alternatively processed genes are summarized.

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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.

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Alternative splicing of pre-mRNAs can regulate expression of protein-coding genes by generating unproductive mRNAs rapidly degraded by nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD). Many of the genes directly regulated by alternative splicing coupled with NMD (AS-NMD) are related to RNA metabolism, but the repertoire of genes regulated by AS-NMD in vivo is to be determined. Here, we analyzed transcriptome data of wild-type and NMD-defective mutant strains of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans and demonstrate that eight of the 82 cytoplasmic ribosomal protein (rp) genes generate unproductively spliced mRNAs. Knockdown of any of the eight rp genes exerted a dynamic and compensatory effect on alternative splicing of its own transcript and inverse effects on that of the other rp genes. A large subunit protein L10a, termed RPL-1 in nematodes, directly and specifically binds to an evolutionarily conserved 39-nt stretch termed L10ARE between the two alternative 5′ splice sites in its own pre-mRNA to switch the splice site choice. Furthermore, L10ARE-mediated splicing autoregulation of the L10a-coding gene is conserved in vertebrates. These results indicate that L10a is an evolutionarily conserved splicing regulator and that homeostasis of a subset of the rp genes are regulated at the level of pre-mRNA splicing in vivo.

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