The roles of UPF3a and UPF3b in nonsense mediated decay

Chan Wai-kin, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Nonsense-mediated decay (NMD) degrades aberrant transcripts containing premature termination codons (PTCs). The T-cell receptor (TCR) locus undergoes error-prone rearrangements that frequently acquire PTCs. Transcripts harboring PTCs from this locus are downregulated much more than transcripts from non-rearranging genes. Efficient splicing is essential for this robust downregulation. Here I show that TCR NMD is unique in another respect: it is not impaired by RNAi-mediated depletion of the NMD factor UPF3b. This differentiates TCR transcripts from classical NMD (assayed using β-globin or triose phosphate isomerase transcripts), which does depend on UPF3b. Depletion of UPF3a, which encodes a gene related to UPF3b, also had no effect on TCR NMD. Mapping experiments identified TCR sequences that when deleted or mutated caused a switch to UPF3b dependence. Since UPF3b dependence was invariably accompanied by less efficient RNA splicing, this suggests that UPF3b-dependent NMD occurs when transcripts are generated by inefficient splicing. Microarray analysis revealed the existence of many NMD-targeted mRNAs from wild-type genes whose downregulation is impervious to UPF3b depletion. This suggests the existence of an alternative NMD pathway independent of UPF3b that is widely used to downregulate the level of both normal and mutant transcripts. During the course of my studies, I also found that the function of UPF3a is fundamentally distinct from that of UPF3b in several aspects. First, classical NMD failed to be impaired by UPF3a depletion, whereas it was reversed by UPF3b depletion. Second, UPF3a depletion had no effect on NMD elicited by tethered UPF2, whereas UPF3b depletion blocked this response. Thus, UPF3a does not function in classical NMD. Third, UPF3b depletion upregulated the expression of UPF3a, whereas UPF3a depletion had no effect on UPF3b expression. This suggests that a UPF3b-mediated feedback network exists that regulates the UPF3a expression. Lastly, UPF3a depletion but not UPF3b depletion significantly upregulated TCR precursor RNAs. This suggests that UPF3a, not UPF3b, functions in the surveillance of precursor RNAs, which typically contain many PTCs in the introns. Collectively, my data suggests that UPF3a and UPF3b are not functionally redundant, as previously thought, but instead have separable functions.

Subject Area

Molecular biology|Cellular biology

Recommended Citation

Chan Wai-kin, "The roles of UPF3a and UPF3b in nonsense mediated decay" (2006). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3209527.