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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Jan 6;101(1):93-8. Epub 2003 Dec 22.

U4 small nuclear RNA can function in both the major and minor spliceosomes.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, OH 44195, USA.


U4 small nuclear RNA (snRNA) and U6 snRNA form a base-paired di-snRNP complex that is essential for pre-mRNA splicing of the major class of metazoan nuclear introns. The functionally analogous but highly diverged U4atac and U6atac snRNAs form a similar complex that is involved in splicing of the minor class of introns. Previous results with mutants of U6atac in which a substructure was replaced by the analogous structure from U6 snRNA suggested that wild-type U4 snRNA might be able to interact productively with the mutant U6atac snRNA. Here we show that a mutant U4 snRNA designed to base pair with a mutant U6atac snRNA can activate U12-dependent splicing when coexpressed in an in vivo genetic suppression assay. This genetic interaction could also be demonstrated in an in vitro crosslinking assay. These results show that a U4/U6atac di-snRNP can correctly splice a U12-dependent intron and suggest that the specificity for spliceosome type resides in the U6 and U6atac small nuclear ribonucleoproteins. Further experiments suggest that expression of a mutant U4 snRNA that can bind to wild-type U6atac snRNA alters the specificity of some splice sites, providing an evolutionary rationale for maintaining two U4-like snRNAs.

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