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Genes & development

Control of a neuronal morphology program by an RNA-binding zinc finger protein, Unkempt.


PMID 25737280

Abstract

Cellular morphology is an essential determinant of cellular function in all kingdoms of life, yet little is known about how cell shape is controlled. Here we describe a molecular program that controls the early morphology of neurons through a metazoan-specific zinc finger protein, Unkempt. Depletion of Unkempt in mouse embryos disrupts the shape of migrating neurons, while ectopic expression confers neuronal-like morphology to cells of different nonneuronal lineages. We found that Unkempt is a sequence-specific RNA-binding protein and identified its precise binding sites within coding regions of mRNAs linked to protein metabolism and trafficking. RNA binding is required for Unkempt-induced remodeling of cellular shape and is directly coupled to a reduced production of the encoded proteins. These findings link post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression with cellular shape and have general implications for the development and disease of multicellular organisms.