The Drosophila Hindsight (hnt) gene encodes a C2H2-type Zinc-finger protein, HNT, that plays multiple developmental roles including control of embryonic germ band retraction and regulation of retinal cell fate and morphogenesis. While the developmental functions of the human HNT homolog, RREB-1, are unknown, it has been shown to function as a transcriptional modulator of several tumor suppressor genes. Here we investigate HNT's functional motifs, target genes and its regulatory abilities. We show that the C-terminal region of HNT, containing the last five of its 14 Zinc fingers, binds in vitro to DNA elements very similar to those identified for RREB-1. We map HNT's in vivo binding sites on salivary gland polytene chromosomes and define, at high resolution, where HNT is bound to two target genes, hnt itself and nervy (nvy). Data from both loss-of-function and over-expression experiments show that HNT attenuates the transcription of these two targets in a tissue-specific manner. RREB-1, when expressed in Drosophila, binds to the same polytene chromosome sites as HNT, attenuates expression of the hnt and nvy genes, and rescues the germ band retraction phenotype. HNT's ninth Zinc finger has degenerated or been lost in the vertebrate lineage. We show that a HNT protein mutant for this finger can also attenuate target gene expression and rescue germ band retraction. Thus HNT and RREB-1 are functional homologs at the level of DNA binding, transcriptional regulation and developmental control.
Smaug is an RNA-binding protein that induces the degradation and represses the translation of mRNAs in the early Drosophila embryo. Smaug has two identified direct target mRNAs that it differentially regulates: nanos and Hsp83. Smaug represses the translation of nanos mRNA but has only a modest effect on its stability, whereas it destabilizes Hsp83 mRNA but has no detectable effect on Hsp83 translation. Smaug is required to destabilize more than one thousand mRNAs in the early embryo, but whether these transcripts represent direct targets of Smaug is unclear and the extent of Smaug-mediated translational repression is unknown.
Despite studies that have investigated the interactions of double-stranded RNA-binding proteins like Staufen with RNA in vitro, how they achieve target specificity in vivo remains uncertain. We performed RNA co-immunoprecipitations followed by microarray analysis to identify Staufen-associated mRNAs in early Drosophila embryos. Analysis of the localization and functions of these transcripts revealed a number of potentially novel roles for Staufen. Using computational methods, we identified two sequence features that distinguish Staufens target transcripts from non-targets. First, these Drosophila transcripts, as well as those human transcripts bound by human Staufen1 and 2, have 3 untranslated regions (UTRs) that are 3-4-fold longer than unbound transcripts. Second, the 3UTRs of Staufen-bound transcripts are highly enriched for three types of secondary structures. These structures map with high precision to previously identified Staufen-binding regions in Drosophila bicoid and human ARF1 3UTRs. Our results provide the first systematic genome-wide analysis showing how a double-stranded RNA-binding protein achieves target specificity.
IL-17, a major inflammatory cytokine plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of many autoimmune inflammatory diseases. In this study, we report a new function of RNA-binding protein HuR in IL-17-induced Act1-mediated chemokine mRNA stabilization. HuR deficiency markedly reduced IL-17-induced chemokine expression due to increased mRNA decay. Act1-mediated HuR polyubiquitination was required for the binding of HuR to CXCL1 mRNA, leading to mRNA stabilization. Although IL-17 induced the coshift of Act1 and HuR to the polysomal fractions in a sucrose gradient, HuR deficiency reduced the ratio of translation-active/translation-inactive IL-17-induced chemokine mRNAs. Furthermore, HuR deletion in distal lung epithelium attenuated IL-17-induced neutrophilia. In summary, HuR functions to couple receptor-proximal signaling to posttranscriptional machinery, contributing to IL-17-induced inflammation.
RNA-binding proteins play crucial roles in directing RNA translation to neuronal synapses. Staufen2 (Stau2) has been implicated in both dendritic RNA localization and synaptic plasticity in mammalian neurons. Here, we report the identification of functionally relevant Stau2 target mRNAs in neurons. The majority of Stau2-copurifying mRNAs expressed in the hippocampus are present in neuronal processes, further implicating Stau2 in dendritic mRNA regulation. Stau2 targets are enriched for secondary structures similar to those identified in the 3 UTRs of Drosophila Staufen targets. Next, we show that Stau2 regulates steady-state levels of many neuronal RNAs and that its targets are predominantly downregulated in Stau2-deficient neurons. Detailed analysis confirms that Stau2 stabilizes the expression of one synaptic signaling component, the regulator of G protein signaling 4 (Rgs4) mRNA, via its 3 UTR. This study defines the global impact of Stau2 on mRNAs in neurons, revealing a role in stabilization of the levels of synaptic targets.
RNA-protein interactions differ from DNA-protein interactions because of the central role of RNA secondary structure. Some RNA-binding domains (RBDs) recognize their target sites mainly by their shape and geometry and others are sequence-specific but are sensitive to secondary structure context. A number of small- and large-scale experimental approaches have been developed to measure RNAs associated in vitro and in vivo with RNA-binding proteins (RBPs). Generalizing outside of the experimental conditions tested by these assays requires computational motif finding. Often RBP motif finding is done by adapting DNA motif finding methods; but modeling secondary structure context leads to better recovery of RBP-binding preferences. Genome-wide assessment of mRNA secondary structure has recently become possible, but these data must be combined with computational predictions of secondary structure before they add value in predicting in vivo binding. There are two main approaches to incorporating structural information into motif models: supplementing primary sequence motif models with preferred secondary structure contexts (e.g., MEMERIS and RNAcontext) and directly modeling secondary structure recognized by the RBP using stochastic context-free grammars (e.g., CMfinder and RNApromo). The former better reconstruct known binding preferences for sequence-specific RBPs but are not suitable for modeling RBPs that recognize shape and geometry of RNAs. Future work in RBP motif finding should incorporate interactions between multiple RBDs and multiple RBPs in binding to RNA. WIREs RNA 2014, 5:111-130. doi: 10.1002/wrna.1201 Conflict of interest: The authors have declared no conflicts of interest for this article. For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.
RNA-binding proteins are key regulators of gene expression, yet only a small fraction have been functionally characterized. Here we report a systematic analysis of the RNA motifs recognized by RNA-binding proteins, encompassing 205 distinct genes from 24 diverse eukaryotes. The sequence specificities of RNA-binding proteins display deep evolutionary conservation, and the recognition preferences for a large fraction of metazoan RNA-binding proteins can thus be inferred from their RNA-binding domain sequence. The motifs that we identify in vitro correlate well with in vivo RNA-binding data. Moreover, we can associate them with distinct functional roles in diverse types of post-transcriptional regulation, enabling new insights into the functions of RNA-binding proteins both in normal physiology and in human disease. These data provide an unprecedented overview of RNA-binding proteins and their targets, and constitute an invaluable resource for determining post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms in eukaryotes.
In all animals, a key event in the transition from maternal control of development to control by products of the zygotic genome is the elimination of a significant fraction of the mRNAs loaded into the egg by the mother. Clearance of these maternal mRNAs is accomplished by two activities: the first is maternally encoded while the second requires zygotic transcription. Recent advances include identification of RNA-binding proteins that function as specificity factors to direct the maternal degradation machinery to its target mRNAs; small RNAs-most notably microRNAs-that function as components of the zygotically encoded activity; signaling pathways that trigger production and/or activation of the clearance mechanism in early embryos; and mechanisms for spatial control of transcript clearance.
While many RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) bind RNA in a sequence-specific manner, their sequence preferences alone do not distinguish known target RNAs from other potential targets that are coexpressed and contain the same sequence motifs. Recently, the mRNA targets of dozens of RNA-binding proteins have been identified, facilitating a systematic study of the features of target transcripts. Using these data, we demonstrate that calculating the predicted structural accessibility of a putative RBP binding site allows one to significantly improve the accuracy of predicting in vivo binding for the majority of sequence-specific RBPs. In our new in silico approach, accessibility is predicted based solely on the mRNA sequence without consideration of the locations of bound trans-factors; as such, our results suggest a greater than previously anticipated role for intrinsic mRNA secondary structure in determining RBP binding target preference. Target site accessibility aids in predicting target transcripts and the binding sites for RBPs with a range of RNA-binding domains and subcellular functions. Based on this work, we introduce a new motif-finding algorithm that identifies accessible sequence-specific RBP motifs from in vivo binding data.
All animal embryos pass through a stage during which developmental control is handed from maternally provided gene products to those synthesized from the zygotic genome. This maternal-to-zygotic transition (MZT) has been extensively studied in model organisms, including echinoderms, nematodes, insects, fish, amphibians and mammals. In all cases, the MZT can be subdivided into two interrelated processes: first, a subset of maternal mRNAs and proteins is eliminated; second, zygotic transcription is initiated. The timing and scale of these two events differ across species, as do the cellular and morphogenetic processes that sculpt their embryos. In this article, we discuss conserved and distinct features within the two component processes of the MZT.
Morphogens are molecules that specify cell fate in a concentration-dependent manner. A classic example is the Bicoid (BCD) protein, for which the prevailing model is that translation of bcd mRNA occurs from a point source at the anterior pole of the Drosophila melanogaster embryo followed by diffusion to produce a protein gradient. This model has been challenged by experiments showing that the diffusion rate of BCD is too slow to establish the protein gradient. The work described in a recent paper has solved this conundrum by demonstrating that a bcd mRNA gradient prefigures the BCD protein gradient.
Chromatin remodeling by Polycomb group (PcG) and trithorax group (trxG) proteins regulates gene expression in all metazoans. Two major complexes, Polycomb repressive complexes 1 and 2 (PRC1 and PRC2), are thought to mediate PcG-dependent repression in flies and mammals. In Drosophila, PcG/trxG protein complexes are recruited by PcG/trxG response elements (PREs). However, it has been unclear how PcG/trxG are recruited in vertebrates. Here we have identified a vertebrate PRE, PRE-kr, that regulates expression of the mouse MafB/Kreisler gene. PRE-kr recruits PcG proteins in flies and mouse F9 cells and represses gene expression in a PcG/trxG-dependent manner. PRC1 and 2 bind to a minimal PRE-kr region, which can recruit stable PRC1 binding but only weak PRC2 binding when introduced ectopically, suggesting that PRC1 and 2 have different binding requirements. Thus, we provide evidence that similar to invertebrates, PREs act as entry sites for PcG/trxG chromatin remodeling in vertebrates.
Based on differences in morphology, photoreceptor-type usage and lens composition it has been proposed that complex eyes have evolved independently many times. The remarkable observation that different eye types rely on a conserved network of genes (including Pax6/eyeless) for their formation has led to the revised proposal that disparate complex eye types have evolved from a shared and simpler prototype. Did this ancestral eye already contain the neural circuitry required for image processing? And what were the evolutionary events that led to the formation of complex visual systems, such as those found in vertebrates and insects? The recent identification of unexpected cell-type homologies between neurons in the vertebrate and Drosophila visual systems has led to two proposed models for the evolution of complex visual systems from a simple prototype. The first, as an extension of the finding that the neurons of the vertebrate retina share homologies with both insect (rhabdomeric) and vertebrate (ciliary) photoreceptor cell types, suggests that the vertebrate retina is a composite structure, made up of neurons that have evolved from two spatially separate ancestral photoreceptor populations. The second model, based largely on the conserved role for the Vsx homeobox genes in photoreceptor-target neuron development, suggests that the last common ancestor of vertebrates and flies already possessed a relatively sophisticated visual system that contained a mixture of rhabdomeric and ciliary photoreceptors as well as their first- and second-order target neurons. The vertebrate retina and fly visual system would have subsequently evolved by elaborating on this ancestral neural circuit. Here we present evidence for these two cell-type homology-based models and discuss their implications.
The induction of cone cells in the Drosophila larval eye disc by the determined R1/R6 photoreceptor precursor cells requires integration of the Delta-Notch and EGF receptor signaling pathways with the activity of the Lozenge transcription factor. Here, we demonstrate that the zinc-finger transcription factor Hindsight (HNT) is required for normal cone-cell induction. R-cells in which hindsight levels are knocked down using RNAi show normal subtype specification, but these cells have lower levels of the Notch ligand Delta. We show that HNT functions in the determined R1/R6 precursor cells to allow Delta transcription to reach high enough levels at the right time to induce the cone-cell determinants Prospero and D-Pax2 in neighboring cells. The Delta signal emanating from the R1/R6 precursor cells is also required to specify the R7 precursor cell by repressing seven-up. As hindsight mutants have normal R7 cell-fate determination, we infer that there is a lower threshold of Delta required for R7 specification than for cone-cell induction.
Genetic control of embryogenesis switches from the maternal to the zygotic genome during the maternal-to-zygotic transition (MZT), when maternal mRNAs are destroyed, high-level zygotic transcription is initiated, the replication checkpoint is activated and the cell cycle slows. The midblastula transition (MBT) is the first morphological event that requires zygotic gene expression. The Drosophila MBT is marked by blastoderm cellularization and follows 13 cleavage-stage divisions. The RNA-binding protein Smaug is required for cleavage-independent maternal transcript destruction during the Drosophila MZT. Here, we show that smaug mutants also disrupt syncytial blastoderm stage cell-cycle delays, DNA replication checkpoint activation, cellularization, and high-level zygotic expression of protein coding and micro RNA genes. We also show that Smaug protein levels increase through the cleavage divisions and peak when the checkpoint is activated and zygotic transcription initiates, and that transgenic expression of Smaug in an anterior-to-posterior gradient produces a concomitant gradient in the timing of maternal transcript destruction, cleavage cell cycle delays, zygotic gene transcription, cellularization and gastrulation. Smaug accumulation thus coordinates progression through the MZT.
RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) have essential roles in post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression. They bind sequence elements in specific mRNAs and control their splicing, transport, localization, translation, and stability. A complete understanding of RBP function requires identification of the target RNAs that an RBP regulates, the mechanisms by which the RBP regulates these targets, and the biological consequences for the cell in which these transactions occur. Antibodies are key tools in such studies: first, mRNA targets of RBPs can be identified by co-immunoprecipitation of RBPs with their associated RNAs followed by microarray analysis or sequencing; second, partner proteins can be identified by immunoprecipitation of the RBP followed by mass spectrometry; third, the mechanisms and functions of RBPs can be inferred from loss-of-function studies employing antibodies that block RBP-RNA interactions. One potentially powerful approach to making antibodies for such studies is the generation of synthetic antibodies using phage display, which involves in vitro selection using a human-designed antibody library to generate antibodies that recognize a target protein. Using two well-characterized Drosophila RNA-binding proteins, Staufen and Smaug, for proof-of-principle, we demonstrate that synthetic antibodies can be generated and used either to perform RNA-coimmunoprecipitations (RIPs) to identify RBP-bound mRNAs, or to block RBP-RNA interactions. Given that synthetic antibody selection protocols are amenable to high-throughput antibody production, these results demonstrate that synthetic antibodies can be powerful tools for genome-wide studies of RBP function.
During the maternal-to-zygotic transition (MZT) vast changes in the embryonic transcriptome are produced by a combination of two processes: elimination of maternally provided mRNAs and synthesis of new transcripts from the zygotic genome. Previous genome-wide analyses of the MZT have been restricted to whole embryos. Here we report the first such analysis for primordial germ cells (PGCs), the progenitors of the germ-line stem cells.
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