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Structural disruption of exonic stem-loops immediately upstream of the intron regulates mammalian splicing.

  • Author(s): Saha, Kaushik;
  • England, Whitney;
  • Fernandez, Mike Minh;
  • Biswas, Tapan;
  • Spitale, Robert C;
  • Ghosh, Gourisankar
  • et al.

Recognition of highly degenerate mammalian splice sites by the core spliceosomal machinery is regulated by several protein factors that predominantly bind exonic splicing motifs. These are postulated to be single-stranded in order to be functional, yet knowledge of secondary structural features that regulate the exposure of exonic splicing motifs across the transcriptome is not currently available. Using transcriptome-wide RNA structural information we show that retained introns in mouse are commonly flanked by a short (≲70 nucleotide), highly base-paired segment upstream and a predominantly single-stranded exonic segment downstream. Splicing assays with select pre-mRNA substrates demonstrate that loops immediately upstream of the introns contain pre-mRNA-specific splicing enhancers, the substitution or hybridization of which impedes splicing. Additionally, the exonic segments flanking the retained introns appeared to be more enriched in a previously identified set of hexameric exonic splicing enhancer (ESE) sequences compared to their spliced counterparts, suggesting that base-pairing in the exonic segments upstream of retained introns could be a means for occlusion of ESEs. The upstream exonic loops of the test substrate promoted recruitment of splicing factors and consequent pre-mRNA structural remodeling, leading up to assembly of the early spliceosome. These results suggest that disruption of exonic stem-loop structures immediately upstream (but not downstream) of the introns regulate alternative splicing events, likely through modulating accessibility of splicing factors.

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