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Genes Dev. 2000 Sep 1;14(17):2173-84.

Unproductively spliced ribosomal protein mRNAs are natural targets of mRNA surveillance in C. elegans.

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Department of Genetics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Messenger RNA surveillance, the selective and rapid degradation of mRNAs containing premature stop codons, occurs in all eukaryotes tested. The biological role of this decay pathway, however, is not well understood. To identify natural substrates of mRNA surveillance, we used a cDNA-based representational difference analysis to identify mRNAs whose abundance increases in Caenorhabditis elegans smg(-) mutants, which are deficient for mRNA surveillance. Alternatively spliced mRNAs of genes encoding ribosomal proteins L3, L7a, L10a, and L12 are abundant natural targets of mRNA surveillance. Each of these genes expresses two distinct mRNAs. A productively spliced mRNA, whose abundance does not change in smg(-) mutants, encodes a normal, full-length, ribosomal protein. An unproductively spliced mRNA, whose abundance increases dramatically in smg(-) mutants, contains premature stop codons because of incomplete removal of an alternatively spliced intron. In transgenic animals expressing elevated quantities of RPL-12, a greater proportion of endogenous rpl-12 transcript is spliced unproductively. Thus, RPL-12 appears to autoregulate its own splicing, with unproductively spliced mRNAs being degraded by mRNA surveillance. We demonstrate further that alternative splicing of rpl introns is conserved among widely diverged nematodes. Our results suggest that one important role of mRNA surveillance is to eliminate unproductive by-products of gene regulation.

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