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.
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.
Genome editing with CRISPR/Cas9 is a promising new approach for correcting or mitigating disease-causing mutations. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is associated with lethal degeneration of cardiac and skeletal muscle caused by more than 3000 different mutations in the X-linked dystrophin gene (DMD). Most of these mutations are clustered in “hotspots.” There is a fortuitous correspondence between the eukaryotic splice acceptor and splice donor sequences and the protospacer adjacent motif sequences that govern prokaryotic CRISPR/Cas9 target gene recognition and cleavage. Taking advantage of this correspondence, we screened for optimal guide RNAs capable of introducing insertion/deletion (indel) mutations by nonhomologous end joining that abolish conserved RNA splice sites in 12 exons that potentially allow skipping of the most common mutant or out-of-frame DMD exons within or nearby mutational hotspots. We refer to the correction of DMD mutations by exon skipping as myoediting. In proof-of-concept studies, we performed myoediting in representative induced pluripotent stem cells from multiple patients with large deletions, point mutations, or duplications within the DMD gene and efficiently restored dystrophin protein expression in derivative cardiomyocytes. In three-dimensional engineered heart muscle (EHM), myoediting of DMD mutations restored dystrophin expression and the corresponding mechanical force of contraction. Correcting only a subset of cardiomyocytes (30 to 50%) was sufficient to rescue the mutant EHM phenotype to near-normal control levels. We conclude that abolishing conserved RNA splicing acceptor/donor sites and directing the splicing machinery to skip mutant or out-of-frame exons through myoediting allow correction of the cardiac abnormalities associated with DMD by eliminating the underlying genetic basis of the disease.
The presence of introns in gene-coding regions is one of the most mysterious evolutionary inventions in eukaryotic organisms. It has been proposed that, although sequences involved in intron recognition and splicing are mainly located in introns, exonic sequences also contribute to intron splicing. The smallest constitutively spliced exon known so far has 6 nucleotides, and the smallest alternatively spliced exon has 3 nucleotides. Here we report that the Anaphase Promoting Complex subunit 11 (APC11) gene in Arabidopsis thaliana carries a constitutive single-nucleotide exon. In vivo transcription and translation assays performed using APC11-Green Fluorescence Protein (GFP) fusion constructs revealed that intron splicing surrounding the single-nucleotide exon is effective in both Arabidopsis and rice. This discovery warrants attention to genome annotations in the future.
Short-read high-throughput RNA sequencing, though powerful, is limited in its ability to directly measure exon connectivity in mRNAs that contain multiple alternative exons located farther apart than the maximum read length. Here, we use the Oxford Nanopore MinION sequencer to identify 7,899 ‘full-length’ isoforms expressed from four Drosophila genes, Dscam1, MRP, Mhc, and Rdl. These results demonstrate that nanopore sequencing can be used to deconvolute individual isoforms and that it has the potential to be a powerful method for comprehensive transcriptome characterization.
Hexanucleotide repeat expansion in the C9ORF72 gene results in production of dipeptide repeat (DPR) proteins that may disrupt pre-mRNA splicing in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) patients. At present, the mechanisms underlying this mis-splicing are not understood. Here, we show that addition of proline-arginine (PR) and glycine-arginine (GR) toxic DPR peptides to nuclear extracts blocks spliceosome assembly and splicing, but not other types of RNA processing. Proteomic and biochemical analyses identified the U2 small nuclear ribonucleoprotein particle (snRNP) as a major interactor of PR and GR peptides. In addition, U2 snRNP, but not other splicing factors, mislocalizes from the nucleus to the cytoplasm both in C9ORF72 patient induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived motor neurons and in HeLa cells treated with the toxic peptides. Bioinformatic studies support a specific role for U2-snRNP-dependent mis-splicing in C9ORF72 patient brains. Together, our data indicate that DPR-mediated dysfunction of U2 snRNP could account for as much as ∼44% of the mis-spliced cassette exons in C9ORF72 patient brains.
The CD19 antigen, expressed on most B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemias (B-ALL), can be targeted with chimeric antigen receptor-armed T cells (CART-19), but relapses with epitope loss occur in 10% to 20% of pediatric responders. We detected hemizygous deletions spanning the CD19 locus and de novo frameshift and missense mutations in exon 2 of CD19 in some relapse samples. However, we also discovered alternatively spliced CD19 mRNA species, including one lacking exon 2. Pull-down/siRNA experiments identified SRSF3 as a splicing factor involved in exon 2 retention, and its levels were lower in relapsed B-ALL. Using genome editing, we demonstrated that exon 2 skipping bypasses exon 2 mutations in B-ALL cells and allows expression of the N-terminally truncated CD19 variant, which fails to trigger killing by CART-19 but partly rescues defects associated with CD19 loss. Thus, this mechanism of resistance is based on a combination of deleterious mutations and ensuing selection for alternatively spliced RNA isoforms.
Alternative splicing of pre-messenger RNA (mRNA) is a critical stage of gene regulation in response to environmental stimuli. Here we show that DAZAP1, an RNA-binding protein involved in mammalian development and spermatogenesis, promotes inclusion of weak exons through specific recognition of diverse cis-elements. The carboxy-terminal proline-rich domain of DAZAP1 interacts with and neutralizes general splicing inhibitors, and is sufficient to activate splicing when recruited to pre-mRNA. This domain is phosphorylated by the MEK/Erk (extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase) pathway and this modification is essential for the splicing regulatory activity and the nuclear/cytoplasmic translocation of DAZAP1. Using mRNA-seq, we identify endogenous splicing events regulated by DAZAP1, many of which are involved in maintaining cell growth. Knockdown or over-expression of DAZAP1 causes a cell proliferation defect. Taken together, these studies reveal a molecular mechanism that integrates splicing control into MEK/Erk-regulated cell proliferation.
RNA splicing is an important target for basic research of disease mechanisms and for drug discovery. Here, we report a new method for analysis of the in vitro RNA splicing process that produces fluorescence using a reduction-triggered fluorescence (RETF) probe. The fluorescence signal is produced only when the two probes bind side-by-side with a specific RNA target. Precursor messenger RNA and mature messenger RNA originating from the chicken δ-crystallin (CDC) gene were successfully discriminated in solution using an RETF probe with the assistance of helper oligonucleotide strands. Also, we successfully applied RETF probes to the detection of emerging mature mRNA in an in vitro splicing process.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is caused by mutations in DMD which disrupt the reading frame. Therapeutic strategies that restore DMD’s reading frame, such as exon skipping and CRISPR/Cas9, need to be tested in the context of the human DMD sequence in vivo. We have developed a novel dystrophic mouse model by using CRISPR/Cas9 to delete exon 45 in the human DMD gene in hDMD mice, which places DMD out-of-frame. We have utilized this model to demonstrate that our clinically-relevant CRISPR/Cas9 platform, which targets deletion of human DMD exons 45-55, can be directly applied in vivo to restore dystrophin.