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BMC Genomics. 2016 Jun 24;17:472. doi: 10.1186/s12864-016-2854-4.

Extent of pre-translational regulation for the control of nucleocytoplasmic protein localization.

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Department of Biochemistry and RNA group, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Québec, J1E 4 K8, Canada.
Department of Biochemistry and RNA group, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Québec, J1E 4 K8, Canada.



Appropriate protein subcellular localization is essential for proper cellular function. Central to the regulation of protein localization are protein targeting motifs, stretches of amino acids serving as guides for protein entry in a specific cellular compartment. While the use of protein targeting motifs is modulated in a post-translational manner, mainly by protein conformational changes and post-translational modifications, the presence of these motifs in proteins can also be regulated in a pre-translational manner. Here, we investigate the extent of pre-translational regulation of the main signals controlling nucleo-cytoplasmic traffic: the nuclear localization signal (NLS) and the nuclear export signal (NES).


Motif databases and manual curation of the literature allowed the identification of 175 experimentally validated NLSs and 120 experimentally validated NESs in human. Following mapping onto annotated transcripts, these motifs were found to be modular, most (73 % for NLS and 88 % for NES) being encoded entirely in only one exon. The presence of a majority of these motifs is regulated in an alternative manner at the transcript level (61 % for NLS and 72 % for NES) while the remaining motifs are present in all coding isoforms of their encoding gene. NLSs and NESs are pre-translationally regulated using four main mechanisms: alternative transcription/translation initiation, alternative translation termination, alternative splicing of the exon encoding the motif and frameshift, the first two being by far the most prevalent mechanisms. Quantitative analysis of the presence of these motifs using RNA-seq data indicates that inclusion of these motifs can be regulated in a tissue-specific and a combinatorial manner, can be altered in disease states in a directed way and that alternative inclusion of these motifs is often used by proteins with diverse interactors and roles in diverse pathways, such as kinases.


The pre-translational regulation of the inclusion of protein targeting motifs is a prominent and tightly-regulated mechanism that adds another layer in the control of protein subcellular localization.


Alternative splicing; Nuclear export sequence; Nuclear localization signal; Pre-translational regulation; Protein subcellular localization; Protein targeting motifs; RNA-seq; Tissue-specific regulation

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