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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Nov 1, 1993; 90(21): 10091–10095.

Determination of mRNA fate by different RNA polymerase II promoters.


Translational stop mutations of the human beta-globin gene cause a reduction of cytoplasmic mRNA accumulation in thalassemia patients and in transfection models. The exact mechanism underlying this phenomenon has remained enigmatic but is known to be post-transcriptional. We have used transfected HeLa cells to study the expression of beta-globin mRNAs with nonsense or frameshift mutations within the three exons of this gene. Mutations in exons 1 or 2 reduce cytoplasmic mRNA accumulation whereas a mutation in exon 3 permits essentially normal expression. We report here that the post-transcriptional fate of mutated beta-globin mRNAs is differentially affected by the type of RNA polymerase II promoter driving expression. Replacement of the beta-globin promoter with the herpes simplex virus type 1 thymidine kinase gene promoter but not the cytomegalovirus immediate early promoter rescues the cytoplasmic accumulation of mutated mRNA to wild-type levels. This effect is shown to be independent of the absolute quantity and the kinetics of accumulation of mutated mRNA synthesized, and primer-extension analyses confirm that both viral promoters accurately utilize identical transcription start sites. These data thus reveal an unexpected property of RNA polymerase II promoters: determination of the post-transcriptional fate of the maturing mRNA, presumably by influencing alternative choices between as yet undefined processing and/or transport pathways.

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