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Concept: Messenger RNA

191

Background The senses of touch and proprioception evoke a range of perceptions and rely on the ability to detect and transduce mechanical force. The molecular and neural mechanisms underlying these sensory functions remain poorly defined. The stretch-gated ion channel PIEZO2 has been shown to be essential for aspects of mechanosensation in model organisms. Methods We performed whole-exome sequencing analysis in two patients who had unique neuromuscular and skeletal symptoms, including progressive scoliosis, that did not conform to standard diagnostic classification. In vitro and messenger RNA assays, functional brain imaging, and psychophysical and kinematic tests were used to establish the effect of the genetic variants on protein function and somatosensation. Results Each patient carried compound-inactivating variants in PIEZO2, and each had a selective loss of discriminative touch perception but nevertheless responded to specific types of gentle mechanical stimulation on hairy skin. The patients had profoundly decreased proprioception leading to ataxia and dysmetria that were markedly worse in the absence of visual cues. However, they had the ability to perform a range of tasks, such as walking, talking, and writing, that are considered to rely heavily on proprioception. Conclusions Our results show that PIEZO2 is a determinant of mechanosensation in humans. (Funded by the National Institutes of Health Intramural Research Program.).

Concepts: Protein, Messenger RNA, Action potential, Perception, Sensory system, Sense, Somatosensory system, Proprioception

186

Eukaryotes have two types of spliceosomes, comprised of either major (U1, U2, U4, U5, U6) or minor (U11, U12, U4atac, U6atac; <1%) snRNPs. The high conservation of minor introns, typically one amidst many major introns in several hundred genes, despite their poor splicing, has been a long-standing enigma. Here, we discovered that the low abundance minor spliceosome's catalytic snRNP, U6atac, is strikingly unstable (t½<2 hr). We show that U6atac level depends on both RNA polymerases II and III and can be rapidly increased by cell stress-activated kinase p38MAPK, which stabilizes it, enhancing mRNA expression of hundreds of minor intron-containing genes that are otherwise suppressed by limiting U6atac. Furthermore, p38MAPK-dependent U6atac modulation can control minor intron-containing tumor suppressor PTEN expression and cytokine production. We propose that minor introns are embedded molecular switches regulated by U6atac abundance, providing a novel post-transcriptional gene expression mechanism and a rationale for the minor spliceosome's evolutionary conservation. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00780.001.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell nucleus, Gene expression, RNA, Messenger RNA, Spliceosome, RNA splicing

186

RNA-seq is a powerful tool for the study of alternative splicing and other forms of alternative isoform expression. Understanding the regulation of these processes requires sensitive and specific detection of differential isoform abundance in comparisons between conditions, cell types, or tissues. We present DEXSeq, a statistical method to test for differential exon usage in RNA-seq data. DEXSeq uses generalized linear models and offers reliable control of false discoveries by taking biological variation into account. DEXSeq detects with high sensitivity genes, and in many cases exons, that are subject to differential exon usage. We demonstrate the versatility of DEXSeq by applying it to several data sets. The method facilitates the study of regulation and function of alternative exon usage on a genome-wide scale. An implementation of DEXSeq is available as an R/Bioconductor package.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Statistics, Messenger RNA, Intron, Spliceosome, RNA splicing, Alternative splicing

183

Purely in vitro ribosome synthesis could provide a critical step towards unraveling the systems biology of ribosome biogenesis, constructing minimal cells from defined components, and engineering ribosomes with new functions. Here, as an initial step towards this goal, we report a method for constructing Escherichia coli ribosomes in crude S150 E. coli extracts. While conventional methods for E. coli ribosome reconstitution are non-physiological, our approach attempts to mimic chemical conditions in the cytoplasm, thus permitting several biological processes to occur simultaneously. Specifically, our integrated synthesis, assembly, and translation (iSAT) technology enables one-step co-activation of rRNA transcription, assembly of transcribed rRNA with native ribosomal proteins into functional ribosomes, and synthesis of active protein by these ribosomes in the same compartment. We show that iSAT makes possible the in vitro construction of modified ribosomes by introducing a 23S rRNA mutation that mediates resistance against clindamycin. We anticipate that iSAT will aid studies of ribosome assembly and open new avenues for making ribosomes with altered properties.

Concepts: Protein, Gene, RNA, Ribosomal RNA, Ribosome, Messenger RNA, Protein biosynthesis, Translation

179

Decoding post-transcriptional regulatory programs in RNA is a critical step towards the larger goal of developing predictive dynamical models of cellular behaviour. Despite recent efforts, the vast landscape of RNA regulatory elements remains largely uncharacterized. A long-standing obstacle is the contribution of local RNA secondary structure to the definition of interaction partners in a variety of regulatory contexts, including–but not limited to–transcript stability, alternative splicing and localization. There are many documented instances where the presence of a structural regulatory element dictates alternative splicing patterns (for example, human cardiac troponin T) or affects other aspects of RNA biology. Thus, a full characterization of post-transcriptional regulatory programs requires capturing information provided by both local secondary structures and the underlying sequence. Here we present a computational framework based on context-free grammars and mutual information that systematically explores the immense space of small structural elements and reveals motifs that are significantly informative of genome-wide measurements of RNA behaviour. By applying this framework to genome-wide human mRNA stability data, we reveal eight highly significant elements with substantial structural information, for the strongest of which we show a major role in global mRNA regulation. Through biochemistry, mass spectrometry and in vivo binding studies, we identified human HNRPA2B1 (heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein A2/B1, also known as HNRNPA2B1) as the key regulator that binds this element and stabilizes a large number of its target genes. We created a global post-transcriptional regulatory map based on the identity of the discovered linear and structural cis-regulatory elements, their regulatory interactions and their target pathways. This approach could also be used to reveal the structural elements that modulate other aspects of RNA behaviour.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, RNA, Secondary structure, Messenger RNA, Intron, RNA splicing, Cis-regulatory element

174

The first broad-spectrum antibiotic chloramphenicol and one of the newest clinically important antibacterials, linezolid, inhibit protein synthesis by targeting the peptidyl transferase center of the bacterial ribosome. Because antibiotic binding should prevent the placement of aminoacyl-tRNA in the catalytic site, it is commonly assumed that these drugs are universal inhibitors of peptidyl transfer and should readily block the formation of every peptide bond. However, our in vitro experiments showed that chloramphenicol and linezolid stall ribosomes at specific mRNA locations. Treatment of bacterial cells with high concentrations of these antibiotics leads to preferential arrest of translation at defined sites, resulting in redistribution of the ribosomes on mRNA. Antibiotic-mediated inhibition of protein synthesis is most efficient when the nascent peptide in the ribosome carries an alanine residue and, to a lesser extent, serine or threonine in its penultimate position. In contrast, the inhibitory action of the drugs is counteracted by glycine when it is either at the nascent-chain C terminus or at the incoming aminoacyl-tRNA. The context-specific action of chloramphenicol illuminates the operation of the mechanism of inducible resistance that relies on programmed drug-induced translation arrest. In addition, our findings expose the functional interplay between the nascent chain and the peptidyl transferase center.

Concepts: Protein, Bacteria, Amino acid, Ribosome, Messenger RNA, Protein biosynthesis, Chloramphenicol, Peptidyl transferase

172

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small, non-coding RNAs that regulate various biological processes, primarily through interaction with messenger RNAs. The levels of specific, circulating miRNAs in blood have been shown to associate with various pathological conditions including cancers. These miRNAs have great potential as biomarkers for various pathophysiological conditions. In this study we focused on different sample types' effects on the spectrum of circulating miRNA in blood. Using serum and corresponding plasma samples from the same individuals, we observed higher miRNA concentrations in serum samples compared to the corresponding plasma samples. The difference between serum and plasma miRNA concentration showed some associations with miRNA from platelets, which may indicate that the coagulation process may affect the spectrum of extracellular miRNA in blood. Several miRNAs also showed platform dependent variations in measurements. Our results suggest that there are a number of factors that might affect the measurement of circulating miRNA concentration. Caution must be taken when comparing miRNA data generated from different sample types or measurement platforms.

Concepts: Gene, Blood, RNA, MicroRNA, Coagulation, Messenger RNA, Platelet, Antagomir

171

Lateralization is a fundamental principle of nervous system organization but its molecular determinants are mostly unknown. In humans, asymmetric gene expression in the fetal cortex has been suggested as the molecular basis of handedness. However, human fetuses already show considerable asymmetries in arm movements before the motor cortex is functionally linked to the spinal cord, making it more likely that spinal gene expression asymmetries form the molecular basis of handedness. We analyzed genome-wide mRNA expression and DNA methylation in cervical and anterior thoracal spinal cord segments of five human fetuses and show development-dependent gene expression asymmetries. These gene expression asymmetries were epigenetically regulated by miRNA expression asymmetries in the TGF-β signaling pathway and lateralized methylation of CpG islands. Our findings suggest molecular mechanisms for epigenetic regulation within the spinal cord constitute the starting point for handedness, implying a fundamental shift in our understanding of the ontogenesis of hemispheric asymmetries in humans.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Cell, Epigenetics, RNA, Messenger RNA, DNA methylation

169

Post-mortem tissues samples are a key resource for investigating patterns of gene expression. However, the processes triggered by death and the post-mortem interval (PMI) can significantly alter physiologically normal RNA levels. We investigate the impact of PMI on gene expression using data from multiple tissues of post-mortem donors obtained from the GTEx project. We find that many genes change expression over relatively short PMIs in a tissue-specific manner, but this potentially confounding effect in a biological analysis can be minimized by taking into account appropriate covariates. By comparing ante- and post-mortem blood samples, we identify the cascade of transcriptional events triggered by death of the organism. These events do not appear to simply reflect stochastic variation resulting from mRNA degradation, but active and ongoing regulation of transcription. Finally, we develop a model to predict the time since death from the analysis of the transcriptome of a few readily accessible tissues.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Transcription, RNA, Messenger RNA, RNA polymerase

168

Deep sequencing now provides detailed snapshots of ribosome occupancy on mRNAs. We leverage these data to parameterize a computational model of translation, keeping track of every ribosome, tRNA, and mRNA molecule in a yeast cell. We determine the parameter regimes in which fast initiation or high codon bias in a transgene increases protein yield and infer the initiation rates of endogenous Saccharomyces cerevisiae genes, which vary by several orders of magnitude and correlate with 5' mRNA folding energies. Our model recapitulates the previously reported 5'-to-3' ramp of decreasing ribosome densities, although our analysis shows that this ramp is caused by rapid initiation of short genes rather than slow codons at the start of transcripts. We conclude that protein production in healthy yeast cells is typically limited by the availability of free ribosomes, whereas protein production under periods of stress can sometimes be rescued by reducing initiation or elongation rates.

Concepts: Protein, Cell nucleus, RNA, Ribosome, Yeast, Messenger RNA, Protein biosynthesis, Genetic code