Timely-regulated intron retention as device to fine-tune protein expression

Claudio Sette, Chiara Naro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

A key step in pre-mRNA processing is represented by splicing, the multilayered process operated by the spliceosome that removes the intervening non-coding introns and ligates adjacent exons. Splicing is necessary to yield a mature, translatable mRNA and its dysregulation underlies many human pathologies.1 Notably, weak conservation of the sequences defining the exon-intron boundaries allows flexibility in the recognition of many exons by the spliceosome. As a consequence, alternative splicing (AS) of such variable exons generates multiple mRNAs, with potentially different coding properties and patterns of expression, from most mammalian genes.1 Retention of select introns into mature mRNAs represents a peculiar pattern of AS that is emerging as a regulatory mechanism for developmentally-modulated gene expression patterns.2 Granulocyte differentiation provided one of the first examples of intron retention (IR) program set in motion to regulate gene expression. Transcripts encoding for proteins no longer required for granulopoiesis, and potentially interfering with it, are eliminated by the nonsense-mediated (NMD) pathway through IR-mediated introduction of premature termination codons (PTCs).3 Similar coordinated and widespread dampening of specific set of genes through IR has been described for several differentiation programs or cellular responses to external stimuli.2 Spermatogenesis, however, represents a remarkable exception. Spermatogenesis involves profound genetic and morphological changes that are necessary for the differentiation of the male germ cell into a motile, fertile spermatozoon. Although proper progression of spermatogenesis requires the timely regulated expression of specific factors for each phase, transcription is not always active during this process. Indeed, nuclear condensation in post-meiotic male germ cells leads to a progressive decline of their transcriptional activity, which ultimately halts in spermatozoa.4 We have recently shown that an orchestrated IR program activated during meiosis contributes to temporally regulate the expression of genes during spermatogenesis.5 IR generates stable transcripts which persist in the nucleus of meiotic spermatocytes for several days after their synthesis, whose splicing and translation is delayed until the post-meiotic phases of spermatogenesis.5 In this way, meiotic IR acts as a compensatory mechanism for the transcriptional inactivity of the terminal phases of germ cell differentiation. Of note, IR-regulated genes encode for proteins that are crucial for proper development and functionality of the spermatozoon, such as those involved in the maturation of the flagellum or in sperm-egg recognition. Interestingly, robust accumulation in the nucleus of stable intron-retaining transcripts was also observed during the cellular response to heat shock.6 This observation suggests that IR stabilizes precursor transcripts before the global inhibition of RNA transcription caused by heat, and that their delayed splicing may promote efficient recovery of gene expression at the end of the stress. Furthermore, a “positive” role for IR was described in neurons. Post-transcriptional splicing of intron-retaining transcripts during neuronal activation allowed rapid expression of proteins encoded by genes that are too long to be rapidly transcribed, processed and translated in response to transient external stimuli.7 Thus, regulation of IR is emerging as a mechanism that can compensate both deficiencies and inefficiencies of the transcriptional process in eukaryotic cells.5,7 Notably, common traits of spermatogenic and neuronal IR programs are the nuclear preservation of intron-retaining transcripts and their protection from nuclear mechanisms of RNA surveillance.5,7 Therefore, it might be of interest to understand whether common mechanisms underlying these features exist in germ cells and neurons, possibly relying on the activity
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1321-1322
Number of pages2
JournalCELL CYCLE
Volume16
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Molecular Biology

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