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Genes Dev. 1993 Oct;7(10):1885-97.

mRNA surveillance by the Caenorhabditis elegans smg genes.

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Department of Genetics, University of Wisconsin, Madison 53706.


mRNAs that contain premature stop codons are unstable in most eukaryotes, but the mechanism of their degradation is largely unknown. We demonstrate that functions of the six C. elegans smg genes are necessary for rapid turnover of nonsense mutant mRNAs of the unc-54 myosin heavy chain gene. Nonsense alleles of unc-54 express mRNAs that are unstable in smg(+) genetic backgrounds but have normal or near normal stability in smg(-) backgrounds. smg mutations also stabilize mRNA of unc-54(r293), a small deletion that removes the unc-54 polyadenylation site and expresses an aberrant mRNA. Most unc-54 nonsense mutations are recessive in both smg(+) and smg(-) genetic backgrounds. However, four specific alleles are recessive when smg(+) and dominant when smg(-). These smg-dependent dominant alleles express nonsense mutant polypeptides that disrupt thick filament and/or sarcomere assembly. All four alleles are predicted to express nonsense fragment polypeptides that contain most of the myosin globular head domain without an attached rod segment. By degrading messages that contain premature stop codons, the smg genes eliminate mRNAs that encode potentially toxic protein fragments. We propose that this system of mRNA turnover protects cells from their own errors of transcription, mRNA processing, or mRNA transport.

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