The Nuclear Functions of Host Cytoplasmic Poly(A) Binding Protein during Viral Infection
Poly(A) tail length is emerging as an important marker of mRNA fate, where deviations from the canonical length can signal degradation or nuclear retention of transcripts. Pathways regulating polyadenylation thus have the potential to broadly influence gene expression. Here we demonstrate that accumulation of cytoplasmic poly(A) binding protein (PABPC) in the nucleus, which can occur during viral infection or other forms of cellular stress, causes mRNA hyperadenylation and nuclear accumulation of poly(A) RNA. This inhibits gene expression but does not affect mRNA stability. Unexpectedly, PABPC-induced hyperadenylation can occur independently of mRNA 3' end processing yet requires the canonical mRNA poly(A) polymerase II. We find that nuclear PABPC-induced hyperadenylation is triggered by multiple divergent viral factors, suggesting that altering the subcellular localization of PABPC may be a commonly used mechanism to regulate cellular gene expression in a polyadenylation-linked manner. PABPC is predominantly cytoplasmic at steady state. The molecular events that trigger relocalization of PABPC and the mechanisms by which it translocates into the nucleus to block gene expression are not understood. Here, we reveal an RNA-based mechanism of retaining PABPC in the cytoplasm. Expression of either viral proteins that promote mRNA turnover or of a cytoplasmic deadenylase drives nuclear relocalization of PABPC in a manner dependent on the PABPC RNA recognition motifs (RRMs). Using multiple independent binding sites within its RRMs, PABPC interacts with importin alpha, a component of the classical nuclear import pathway. Finally, we demonstrate that the direct association of PABPC with importin alpha, is antagonized by the presence of poly(A) RNA but not poly(C) RNA, supporting a model in which RNA binding masks nuclear import signals within the PABPC RRMs, thereby ensuring efficient cytoplasmic retention of this protein in normal cells. These findings further suggest that cells must carefully calibrate the ratio of PABPC to mRNA, as events that offset this balance can dramatically influence gene expression.