[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Polycistronic pre-mRNAs from Caenohabditis elegans operons are processed by internal cleavage and polyadenylation to create 3' ends of mature mRNAs. This is accompanied by trans-splicing with SL2 approximately 100 nucleotides downstream of the 3' end formation sites to create the 5' ends of downstream mRNAs. SL2 trans-splicing depends on a U-rich element (Ur), located approximately 70 nucleotides upstream of the trans-splice site in the intercistronic region (ICR), as well as a functional 3' end formation signal. Here we report the existence of a novel gene-length RNA, the Ur-RNA, starting just upstream of the Ur element. The expression of Ur-RNA is dependent on 3' end formation as well as on the presence of the Ur element, but does not require a trans-splice site. The Ur-RNA is not capped, and alteration of the location of the Ur element in either the 5' or 3' direction alters the location of the 5' end of the Ur-RNA. We propose that a 5' to 3' exonuclease degrades the precursor RNA following cleavage at the poly(A) site, stopping when it reaches the Ur element, presumably attributable to a bound protein. Part of the function of this protein can be performed by the MS2 coat protein. Recruitment of coat protein to the ICR in the absence of the Ur element results in accumulation of an RNA equivalent to Ur-RNA, and restores trans-splicing. Only SL1, however, is used. Therefore, coat protein is sufficient for blocking the exonuclease and thereby allowing formation of a substrate for trans-splicing, but it lacks the ability to recruit the SL2 snRNP. Our results also demonstrate that MS2 coat protein can be used as an in vivo block to an exonuclease, which should have utility in mRNA stability studies.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: About half of Caenorhabditis elegans genes have a 1-2 bp mismatch to the canonical AAUAAA hexamer that signals 3' end formation. One rare variant, AGUAAA, is found at the 3' end of the mai-1 gene, the first gene in an operon also containing gpd-2 and gpd-3. When we expressed this operon under heat shock control, 3' end formation dependent on the AGUAAA was very inefficient, but could be rescued by a single bp change to create a perfect AAUAAA. When AGUAAA was present, most 3' ends formed at a different site, 100 bp farther downstream, right at the gpd-2 trans-splice site. Surprisingly, 3' end formation at this site did not require any observable match to the AAUAAA consensus. It is possible that 3' end formation at this site occurs by a novel mechanism--trans-splicing-dependent cleavage--as deletion of the trans-splice site prevented 3' end formation here. Changing the AGUAAA to AAUAAA also influenced the trans-splicing process: with AGUAAA, most of the gpd-2 product was trans-spliced to SL1, rather than SL2, which is normally used at downstream operon trans-splice sites. However, with AAUAAA, SL2 trans-splicing of gpd-2 was increased. Our results imply that (1) the AAUAAA consensus controls 3' end formation frequency in C. elegans; (2) the AAUAAA is important in determining SL2 trans-splicing events more than 100 bp downstream; and (3) in some circumstances, 3' end formation may occur by a trans-splicing-dependent mechanism.