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PLoS One. 2019 Jul 10;14(7):e0219210. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0219210. eCollection 2019.

The RNA encoding the microtubule-associated protein tau has extensive structure that affects its biology.

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Department of Chemistry, The Scripps Research Institute, Jupiter, Florida, United States of America.
Roy J. Carver Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics & Molecular Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, United States of America.


Tauopathies are neurodegenerative diseases that affect millions of people worldwide including those with Alzheimer's disease. While many efforts have focused on understanding the role of tau protein in neurodegeneration, there has been little done to systematically analyze and study the structures within tau's encoding RNA and their connection to disease pathology. Knowledge of RNA structure can provide insights into disease mechanisms and how to affect protein production for therapeutic benefit. Using computational methods based on thermodynamic stability and evolutionary conservation, we identified structures throughout the tau pre-mRNA, especially at exon-intron junctions and within the 5' and 3' untranslated regions (UTRs). In particular, structures were identified at twenty exon-intron junctions. The 5' UTR contains one structured region, which lies within a known internal ribosome entry site. The 3' UTR contains eight structured regions, including one that contains a polyadenylation signal. A series of functional experiments were carried out to assess the effects of mutations associated with mis-regulation of alternative splicing of exon 10 and to identify regions of the 3' UTR that contain cis-regulatory elements. These studies defined novel structural regions within the mRNA that affect stability and pre-mRNA splicing and may lead to new therapeutic targets for treating tau-associated diseases.

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Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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