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RNA Biol. 2011 Jul-Aug;8(4):552-6. doi: 10.4161/rna.8.4.15396. Epub 2011 Jul 1.

Conserved RNA structures in the non-canonical Hac1/Xbp1 intron.

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Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester UK.


The unconventional splicing of Hac1 by the ribonuclease Ire1 is a key event in the activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR) in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This splicing is independent of the spliceosome and is mediated by a secondary structure at the intron-exon boundaries of the mRNA. Similar unconventional splicing was also described for the gene Xbp1 in human, mouse, C. elegans and D. melanogaster, and for Hac1 in five other fungi. We used reported RNA structures to build a multiple sequence alignment and the Infernal package to search for homologous structures. We identified homologous non-canonical intron structures in 128 out of 156 searched eukaryotic genomes. Our results show that the sequence of the Hac1/Xbp1 intron is highly conserved only around the splice sites recognized by Ire1. The consensus structure of the Hac1/Xbp1 mRNA is well conserved in Fungi and Metazoa and resembles structures previously described. We show that a typical Hac1/Xbp1 intron is very short, only 20-26 bases, whereas yeast species have a long intron (> 100 bases). We identified six species with unambiguous Hac1/Xbp1 homologs that have lost the non-canonical intron structure. We propose that these species use a different mechanism to regulate the UPR.

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