BMC molecular biology

High-affinity consensus binding of target RNAs by the STAR/GSG proteins GLD-1, STAR-2 and Quaking.

PMID 20573244


STAR/GSG proteins regulate gene expression in metazoans by binding consensus sites in the 5' or 3' UTRs of target mRNA transcripts. Owing to the high degree of homology across the STAR domain, most STAR proteins recognize similar RNA consensus sequences. Previously, the consensus for a number of well-characterized STAR proteins was defined as a hexameric sequence, referred to as the SBE, for STAR protein binding element. C. elegans GLD-1 and mouse Quaking (Qk-1) are two representative STAR proteins that bind similar consensus hexamers, which differ only in the preferred nucleotide identities at certain positions. Earlier reports also identified partial consensus elements located upstream or downstream of a canonical consensus hexamer in target RNAs, although the relative contribution of these sequences to the overall binding energy remains less well understood. Additionally, a recently identified STAR protein called STAR-2 from C. elegans is thought to bind target RNA consensus sites similar to that of GLD-1 and Qk-1. Here, a combination of fluorescence-polarization and gel mobility shift assays was used to demonstrate that STAR-2 binds to a similar RNA consensus as GLD-1 and Qk-1. These assays were also used to further delineate the contributions of each hexamer consensus nucleotide to high-affinity binding by GLD-1, Qk-1 and STAR-2 in a variety of RNA contexts. In addition, the effects of inserting additional full or partial consensus elements upstream or downstream of a canonical hexamer in target RNAs were also measured to better define the sequence elements and RNA architecture recognized by different STAR proteins. The results presented here indicate that a single hexameric consensus is sufficient for high-affinity RNA binding by STAR proteins, and that upstream or downstream partial consensus elements may alter binding affinities depending on the sequence and spacing. The general requirements determined for high-affinity RNA binding by STAR proteins will help facilitate the identification of novel regulatory targets in vivo.