Regulation of RNA splicing by nonsense mutations

J. Saadi Imam, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Translation termination as a result of premature nonsense codon-incorporation in a RNA transcript can lead to the production of aberrant proteins with gain-of-function or dominant negative properties that could have deletrious effects on the cell. T-cell Receptor (TCR) genes acquire premature termination codons two-thirds of the time as a result of the error-prone programmed rearrangement events that normally occur during T-cell development. My studies have focused on the fate of TCR precursor mRNAs in response to in-frame nonsense mutations. Previous published studies from our laboratory have shown that TCR precursor mRNAs are subject to nonsense mediated upregulation of pre-mRNA (NMUP). In this dissertation, I performed substitution and deletion analysis to characterize specific regions of TCR which are required to elicit NMUP. I performed frame- and factor-dependence studies to determine its relationship with other nonsense codon induced responses using several approaches including (i) translation dependence studies (ii) deletion and mutational analysis, as well as (iii) siRNA mediated knockdown of proteins involved. I also addressed the underlying molecular mechanism for this pre-mRNA upregulation by (i) RNA half-life studies using a c-fos inducible promoter, and (ii) a variety of assays to determine pre-mRNA splicing efficiency. Using these approaches, I have identified a region of TCR that is both necessary and sufficient to elicit (NMUP). I have also found that neither cytoplasmic translation machinery nor the protein UPF1 are involved in eliciting this nuclear event. I have shown that the NMUP can be induced not only by nonsense and frameshift mutations, but also missense mutations that disrupt a cis splicing element in the exon that contains the mutation. However, the effect of nonsense mutations on pre-mRNA is unique and distinguishable from that of missense mutations in that nonsense mutations can upregulate pre-mRNA in a frame-dependent manner. Lastly, I provide evidence that NMUP occurs by a mechanism in which nonsense mutations inhibit the splicing of introns. In summary, I have found that TCR precursor mRNAs are subject to multiple forces involving both RNA splicing and translation that can either increase or decrease the levels of these precursor mRNAs.

Subject Area

Molecular biology|Cellular biology|Immunology

Recommended Citation

Imam, J. Saadi, "Regulation of RNA splicing by nonsense mutations" (2007). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3256549.