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Mol Gen Genet. 1998 Nov;260(2-3):176-84.

mRNA surveillance mitigates genetic dominance in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Department of Genetics, University of Wisconsin, Madison 53706, USA.


Nonsense mutant mRNAs are unstable in all eucaryotes tested, a phenomenon termed nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) or mRNA surveillance. Functions of the seven smg genes are required for mRNA surveillance in Caenorhabditis elegans. In Smg(+) genetic backgrounds, nonsense-mutant mRNAs are unstable, while in Smg(-) backgrounds such mRNAs are stable. Previous work has demonstrated that the elevated level of nonsense-mutant mRNAs in Smg(-) animals can influence the phenotypic effects of heterozygous nonsense mutations. Certain nonsense alleles of a muscle myosin heavy chain gene are recessive in Smg(+) backgrounds but strongly dominant in Smg(-) backgrounds. Such alleles probably express disruptive myosin polypeptide fragments whose abundance is elevated in smg mutants due to elevation of mRNA levels. We report here that mutations in a variety of C. elegans genes are strongly dominant in Smg(-), but recessive or only weakly dominant in Smg(+) backgrounds. We isolated 32 dominant visible mutations in a Smg(-) genetic background and tested whether their dominance requires a functional NMD system. The dominance of 21 of these mutations is influenced by NMD. We demonstrate, furthermore, that in the case of myosin, the dominant-negative effects of nonsense alleles are likely to be due to expression of N-terminal nonsense-fragment polypeptides, not to mistranslation of the nonsense codons. mRNA surveillance, therefore, may mitigate potentially deleterious effects of many heterozygous germline and somatic nonsense or frame-shift mutations. We also provide evidence that smg-6, a gene previously identified as being required for NMD, performs essential function(s) in addition to its role in NMD.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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