Mechanisms by which nonsense codons downregulate T-cell receptor transcripts

Angela Bhalla, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) is a quality control mechanism that degrades aberrant mRNAs harboring premature termination codons (PTCs). Two out of three T-cell receptor β (TCRβ) transcripts carry PTCs as a result of error-prone programmed rearrangements that occur at this locus during lymphocyte maturation. PTCs decrease TCRβ mRNA levels to a much greater extent than mRNAs transcribed from non-rearranging genes. This robust decrease in TCRβ mRNA levels is not a unique characteristic of the T-cell environment or the TCRβ promoter. The simplest explanation for this is that PTC-bearing TCRβ mRNAs elicit a stronger NMD response. An alternative explanation is NMD collaborates with another mechanism to dramatically decrease PTC-bearing TCRβ mRNA levels. In my dissertation, I investigated the molecular mechanism behind the strong decrease in TCRβ mRNA levels triggered by PTCs. To determine the location of this response, I performed mRNA half-life analysis and found that PTCs elicited more rapid TCRβ mRNA decay in the nuclear fraction, not the cytoplasmic fraction. Although decay was restricted to the nuclear fraction, PTC-bearing TCRβ transcript levels were extremely low in the cytoplasm, a phenomenon that I named the nonsense-codon induced partitioning shift (NIPS). I established that NIPS shares several qualities with NMD, including its dependence on translation and NMD factors. Several lines of evidence suggested that NIPS results from PTCs eliciting retention of TCRβ transcripts in the nuclear fraction. This retention, as well as rapid TCRβ mRNA decay, most likely occurs in either the nucleoplasm or the outer nuclear membrane, based on analysis of nuclear and cytoplasmic markers in the highly purified nuclei I used for my studies. To further address the location of decay, I asked whether nuclear or cytoplasmic RNA decay factors mediated the destruction of PTC-bearing mRNAs. My results suggested that a nuclear component of the 3'-to-5' exosome, as well as an endonucleolytic activity, are involved in the destruction of PTC-containing TCRβ mRNAs. Individual endogenous NMD substrates had differential requirements for nuclear and cytoplasmic exonucleases. In summary, my results provide evidence that PTCs trigger multiple mechanisms involving multiple decay factors to remove and regulate mRNAs in mammalian cells.

Subject Area

Molecular biology|Biochemistry

Recommended Citation

Bhalla, Angela, "Mechanisms by which nonsense codons downregulate T-cell receptor transcripts" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3401841.