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Cell Death Differ. 2012 Dec;19(12):1972-82. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2012.85. Epub 2012 Jul 6.

Apoptosis-like programmed cell death induces antisense ribosomal RNA (rRNA) fragmentation and rRNA degradation in Leishmania.

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  • 1Research Centre in Infectious Diseases, CHUL Research Centre (CHUQ), Laval University, 2705 Laurier Boulevard ,Quebec, QC, Canada G1V 4G2.


Few natural antisense (as) RNAs have been reported as yet in the unicellular protozoan Leishmania. Here, we describe that Leishmania produces natural asRNAs complementary to all ribosomal RNA (rRNA) species. Interestingly, we show that drug-induced apoptosis-like programmed cell death triggers fragmentation of asRNA complementary to the large subunit gamma (LSU-γ) rRNA, one of the six 28S rRNA processed fragments in Leishmania. Heat and oxidative stress also induce fragmentation of asrRNA, but to a lesser extent. Extensive asrRNA cleavage correlates with rRNA breakdown and translation inhibition. Indeed, overexpression of asLSU-γ rRNA accelerates rRNA degradation upon induction of apoptosis. In addition, we provide mechanistic insight into the regulation of apoptosis-induced asrRNA fragmentation by a 67 kDa ATP-dependent RNA helicase of the DEAD-box subfamily. This helicase binds both sense (s)LSU-γ and asLSU-γ rRNAs, and appears to have a key role in protecting rRNA from degradation by preventing asrRNA cleavage and thus cell death. Remarkably, the asrRNA fragmentation process operates not only in trypanosomatid protozoa but also in mammals. Our findings uncover a novel mechanism of regulation involving asrRNA fragmentation and rRNA breakdown, that is triggered by apoptosis and conditions of reduced translation under stress, and seems to be evolutionary conserved.

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