Understanding Functions for Fission Yeast Pre-mRNA Splicing Factors SpPrp18 and SpSlu7 in Constitutive and Alternative Splicing
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Exonic sequences of eukaryotic genes are interspersed with introns which when accurately removed from the primary transcript (pre-mRNA) results in a functional transcript. These splicing reactions are carried out by the spliceosome, consisting of U1, U2, U4, U5, U6 snRNAs and 150 non-snRNP proteins, which assemble onto the pre-mRNA and catalyzes the two invariant transesterification reactions (Will and Luhrmann, 2006). The flexibility in choice of splice sites allows for alternative splicing which has immensely contributed to eukaryotic genome evolution and in diversifying the metazoan proteome (Nilesen and Graveley, 2010). Dynamic yet ordered interactions between U2, U5 and U6 snRNAs and Prp8, Prp16, Prp17, Prp18, Slu7 and Prp22 splicing factors are required in vitro for second-step of splicing of budding yeast and human model transcripts (Umen and Guthrie, 1995a; Horowitz, 2012). ScSlu7 aids 3’ss selection while its strongly associated partner ScPrp18 stabilises U5 snRNA-exonic interactions (James et al., 2002; Aronova et al., 2007). These factors are dispensable in vitro, for the splicing of introns with short branch nucleotide to 3’ss distances (Brys and Schwer, 1996; Zhang and Schwer, 1997). Nearly 43% of fission yeast genes have short introns, with degenerate splice-signals and unconventional Py(n) tracts (Kuhn and Kaufer, 2003). As these features differ extensively from budding yeast and are interestingly more representative of fungal and other eukaryotic introns, fission yeast is an attractive unicellular model to investigate alternate splice-site recognition and assembly mechanisms. Mechanistic details of the second catalytic step are poorly understood in fission yeast. Strikingly, mutations in 3’ss and Py(n) tract intronic cis elements, known to block second step splicing in budding yeast, cause pre-catalytic arrest with unspliced pre-mRNA accumulation in fission yeast (Romfo and Wise, 1997). Studies in our laboratory focussed on understanding the functions for fission yeast SpPrp18 and SpSlu7 predicted to be second-step factors, revealed remarkable differences as compared to their budding yeast counterparts. Unexpectedly, SpPrp18 and SpSlu7 were found by our lab to be required before catalysis and these proteins do not directly associate with each other. Genome-wide splicing studies in a missense slu7-2 mutant indicated widespread yet intron-specific splicing functions for SpSlu7 (Banerjee et al., 2013). Crucial functions were attributed to helix-5 and conserved region loop of SpPrp18 and in vivo splicing analysis in selected cellular transcripts in a missense mutant (V194R) also revealed intron-specific functions (Thesis, N Vijaykrishna). In this study, we have advanced our understanding of SpPrp18 functions by identifying its global substrates and correlating with its intron-specific roles. Through molecular and genetic approaches, we have probed its role in splicing/spliceosome assembly. We identified intronic features within substrates that increase the propensity for the requirement of SpSlu7 for efficient splicing. Further, using findings from the genome-wide alternative splicing patterns in SpSlu7 and SpPrp18 mutants, we have attempted to understand their role in splice-site choice and thus alternative splicing. Ia. Understanding global splicing functions and spliceosomal interactions of fission yeast splicing factor SpPrp18 Since SpPrp18 is an essential gene, our lab generated the strains (prp18-5int [V194R] and WTint), where the thiamine-repressible promoter allowed conditional expression of wild-type or mutant allele integrated at the heterologous leu1 locus. Splicing efficiency of certain cellular transcripts with differing intron characteristics was assessed by semi-quantitative RT-PCR studies and the data suggested intron-specific SpPrp18 roles (in collaboration with Vijaykrishna N). This prompted us to investigate the global splicing role for SpPrp18 for which we used splicing-sensitive microarrays having custom-designed probes to distinguish unspliced pre-mRNA and spliced mRNA for every individual pombe intron. RNA from prp18-5int (V194R) and WTint cells was used in these experiments. We derived a stringent dataset of 258 introns which were statistically significant and correlated in two biological replicate RNA samples, for various probes. Hierarchical clustering of this dataset showed that the depletion of wild-type SpPrp18 triggered a range of splicing phenotypes like (A) pre-mRNA accumulation with mRNA reduction (B) pre-mRNA accumulation (C) spliced mRNA reduction and (D) unchanged pre-mRNA and mRNA levels. Statistical analysis of cis motifs that may correlate with the substrate-specific SpPrp18 splicing functions was done, but the data showed a lack of a global discriminatory primary sequence feature. However, a subtle intron-specific role for Py(n) tracts located between 5’ss and BrP was deduced for SpPrp18. This lead was validated by examining the in vivo splicing efficiency of minitranscripts with wild-type or an altered Py tract length, carried out for a SpPrp18 dependent and an independent intron. To specifically address if SpPrp18 activity was required for second-step splicing we investigated, using primer extension analyses, for lariat intron-3’exon species, an intermediate formed after step 1. We observed that even in prp18-5int dbr1∆ double mutants (where lariat molecules are not degraded) the cells accumulate only unspliced pre-mRNA and not lariat intermediates, a signature of an early arrest prior to the first transesterification reaction. Strengthening these findings, positive genetic interactions were noted between prp18-5int and ts mutants in two factors (U2AF59 and SpPrp1) involved in precatalytic spliceosome assembly and activation. On the whole, our genome-wide studies indicate intron-specific pre-catalytic functions for SpPrp18 supported by genetic interactions with early acting splicing factors involved in spliceosomal assembly and activation. Ib. Identification of intronic features that determine substrate-specific splicing functions for SpSlu7 In vitro studies with ScSlu7 and hSlu7 show their influence in 3’ss selection when BrP to 3’ss distance is greater than 7 nts and 23 nts respectively; but the global substrates are not known in either species (Brys and Schwer, 1996; Chua and Reed, 1999b). Genome-wide analysis of the splicing efficiency changes in cells with the mis-sense spslu7+ mutant (slu7-2), previously carried out in our lab, revealed a spectrum of splicing defects (Banerjee et al., 2013). To further understand the intron context-specific roles for SpSlu7, we examined intronic cis features that may correlate with SpSlu7 dependence. Statistical analyses of the affected (422 introns) and unaffected categories (90 introns) revealed that intron length, BrP to 3’ss distance and AU content are multiple discriminatory cis features that govern SpSlu7 splicing functions. To assess the contribution of these intronic features we tested whether altering these cis elements changes a transcript’s dependency (or otherwise) on SpSlu7 by RT-PCR analyses. For these studies, we generated plasmid expressed mini-genes containing the respective wild-type intron or intron with altered BrP-3’ss distances. We used nab2+ I2 as a case of an intron spliced independent of SpSlu7 and rhb1+ I1 as a representative for SpSlu7 dependent intron. Experiments testing their in vivo splicing status proved that BrP-3’ss distance is a cis feature that dictates SpSlu7 splicing functions in a context-dependent manner. The intronic AU content particularly between the 5’ss and the BrP was assessed in minigene constructs where a chimeric intron was generated by swapping the low AU containing sequences in the 5’ss to BrP stretch of cdc2+ I2 with AU rich bpb1+ I1 5’ end sequences. The results reaffirmed that low intronic AU content particularly at the 5’ end co-relates with SpSlu7 dependency. Hence, we have deduced novel intronic elements, which perhaps in combination, create a contextual dependence for SpSlu7 to facilitate efficient splicing. II. Alternative splice-site selection in fission yeast and studies on the role of splicing factors SpSlu7 and SpPrp18 Budding yeast second-step splicing factors ScSlu7 and ScPrp18 mediate 3’ss choice in the single intron containing transcripts. Fission yeast genome encodes cis and trans factors that promote alternative splicing similar to higher eukaryotes. In this study, we have devised a data analysis pipeline to identify alternative splice events in multi-intronic transcripts of fission yeast. Further, we utilised this information to interrogate the global role for SpSlu7 and SpPrp18 in alternate splice site selection. We mapped the microarray probe sequences corresponding to all theoretically possible non-consecutive splice junctions of S. pombe transcripts onto two independent experimental next-generation (NGS) transcriptomes from wild-type samples and identified 104 exon skipping events with NGS reads more than 3 (Wilhelm et al., 2008; Rhind et al., 2011). We further generated a stringent list of ten exon skipping events having high sequence reads as well as raw intensity value in our microarray experiments with wild-type cells. Two representative events from this list, an abundant rps13+ exon 2 skipped alternative mRNA and less abundant ats1+ exon 3 skipped alternative mRNA were then taken up for experimental analyses by semi-quantitative RT-PCR assays. We confirmed these events and further noted that SpSlu7 and SpPrp18 were required for the constitutive splicing of ats1+ E2-I2-E3-I3-E4 cassette. On the other hand, SpSlu7, and not SpPrp18, exerted a subtle influence on the skipping of exon 3. In addition to exon 3 skipped mRNA, we detected an intron 3 retained ats1+ alternative mRNA (E2-E3-I3-E4) in wild-type cells. Assessment of this event in cells metabolically depleted of SpSlu7 and SpPrp18 showed a reduced abundance of this species in both instances. This suggests a role for functional SpSlu7 and SpPrp18 in retaining intron 3 in ats1+ transcripts in vivo. Among the ten microarray probes, custom-designed to detect specifically the mRNA isoforms arising from altered use of donor 5’ splice sites, we were able to detect in wild-type cells the utilisation of a downstream alternate 5’ss in intron 1 of D-Tyr-tRNA deacylase. Comparative assessment of this splicing event in prp18-5int and slu7-2 mutant cells revealed that SpPrp18 is preferentially required for the utilisation of its alternative 5’ss and such a role has not yet been attributed to its budding yeast and human homologs. On the other hand, SpSlu7 was required equally for utilisation of canonical and non-canonical 5’ss. Differential requirement for SpSlu7 for the utilisation of an upstream non-canonical 3’ss and the canonical 3’ss in DUF3074 intron 1, was noted. This role of SpSlu7 in 3’ss selection is similar to that known from in vitro studies of its budding yeast and human counterparts. Overall, we identified and experimentally validated novel alternate splice events in fission yeast and we infer an important role for SpSlu7 and SpPrp18 in both 5’ss and 3’ss selection.