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RNA. 2007 Sep;13(9):1409-26. Epub 2007 Jul 13.

C. elegans sequences that control trans-splicing and operon pre-mRNA processing.

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  • 1The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, USA.


Many mRNAs in Caenorhabditis elegans are generated through a trans-splicing reaction that adds one of two classes of spliced leader RNA to an independently transcribed pre-mRNA. SL1 leaders are spliced mostly to pre-mRNAs from genes with outrons, intron-like sequences at the 5'-ends of the pre-mRNAs. In contrast, SL2 leaders are nearly exclusively trans-spliced to genes that occur downstream in polycistronic pre-mRNAs produced from operons. Operon pre-mRNA processing requires separation into individual transcripts, which is accomplished by 3'-processing of upstream genes and spliced leader trans-splicing to the downstream genes. We used a novel computational analysis, based on nonnegative matrix factorization, to identify and characterize significant differences in the cis-acting sequence elements that differentiate various types of functional site, including internal versus terminal 3'-processing sites, and SL1 versus SL2 trans-splicing sites. We describe several key elements, including the U-rich (Ur) element that couples 3'-processing with SL2 trans-splicing, and a novel outron (Ou) element that occurs upstream of SL1 trans-splicing sites. Finally, we present models of the distinct classes of trans-splicing reaction, including SL1 trans-splicing at the outron, SL2 trans-splicing in standard operons, competitive SL1-SL2 trans-splicing in operons with large intergenic separation, and SL1 trans-splicing in SL1-type operons, which have no intergenic separation.

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