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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Aug 21;104(34):13684-9. Epub 2007 Aug 15.

Role of purine-rich exonic splicing enhancers in nuclear retention of pre-mRNAs.

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  • 1Institute for Virus Research, Kyoto University, Kyoto 606-8507, Japan.


Intron-containing pre-mRNAs are normally retained in the nucleus until they are spliced to produce mature mRNAs that are exported to the cytoplasm. Although the detailed mechanism is not well understood, the formation of splicing-related complexes on pre-mRNAs is thought to be responsible for the nuclear retention. Therefore, pre-mRNAs containing suboptimal splice sites should tend to leak out to the cytoplasm. Such pre-mRNAs often contain purine-rich exonic splicing enhancers (ESEs) that stimulate splicing of the adjacent intron. Here, we show that ESEs per se possess an activity to retain RNAs in the nucleus through a saturable nuclear retention factor. Cross-competition experiments revealed that intron-containing pre-mRNAs (without ESEs) used the same saturable nuclear retention factor as ESEs. Interestingly, although intronless mRNAs containing ESEs were also poorly exported, spliced mRNAs produced from ESE-containing pre-mRNAs were efficiently exported to the cytoplasm. Thus, the splicing reaction can reset the nuclear retention state caused by ESEs, allowing nuclear export of mature mRNAs. Our results reveal a novel aspect of ESE activity that should contribute to gene expression and RNA quality control.

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