RNA biology

The role of short RNA loops in recognition of a single-hairpin exon derived from a mammalian-wide interspersed repeat.

PMID 25826413


Splice-site selection is controlled by secondary structure through sequestration or approximation of splicing signals in primary transcripts but the exact role of even the simplest and most prevalent structural motifs in exon recognition remains poorly understood. Here we took advantage of a single-hairpin exon that was activated in a mammalian-wide interspersed repeat (MIR) by a mutation stabilizing a terminal triloop, with splice sites positioned close to each other in a lower stem of the hairpin. We first show that the MIR exon inclusion in mRNA correlated inversely with hairpin stabilities. Employing a systematic manipulation of unpaired regions without altering splice-site configuration, we demonstrate a high correlation between exon inclusion of terminal tri- and tetraloop mutants and matching tri-/tetramers in splicing silencers/enhancers. Loop-specific exon inclusion levels and enhancer/silencer associations were preserved across primate cell lines, in 4 hybrid transcripts and also in the context of a distinct stem, but only if its loop-closing base pairs were shared with the MIR hairpin. Unlike terminal loops, splicing activities of internal loop mutants were predicted by their intramolecular Watson-Crick interactions with the antiparallel strand of the MIR hairpin rather than by frequencies of corresponding trinucleotides in splicing silencers/enhancers. We also show that splicing outcome of oligonucleotides targeting the MIR exon depend on the identity of the triloop adjacent to their antisense target. Finally, we identify proteins regulating MIR exon recognition and reveal a distinct requirement of adjacent exons for C-terminal extensions of Tra2α and Tra2β RNA recognition motifs.