The combinatorial control of alternative splicing in C. elegans

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Normal development requires the right splice variants to be made in the right tissues at the right time. The core splicing machinery is engaged in all splicing events, but which precise splice variant is made requires the choice between alternative splice sites—for this to occur, a set of splicing factors (SFs) must recognize and bind to short RNA motifs in the pre-mRNA. In C. elegans, there is known to be extensive variation in splicing patterns across development, but little is known about the targets of each SF or how multiple SFs combine to regulate splicing. Here we combine RNA-seq with in vitro binding assays to study how 4 different C. elegans SFs, ASD-1, FOX-1, MEC-8, and EXC-7, regulate splicing. The 4 SFs chosen all have well-characterised biology and well-studied loss-of-function genetic alleles, and all contain RRM domains. Intriguingly, while the SFs we examined have varied roles in C. elegans development, they show an unexpectedly high overlap in their targets. We also find that binding sites for these SFs occur on the same pre-mRNAs more frequently than expected suggesting extensive combinatorial control of splicing. We confirm that regulation of splicing by multiple SFs is often combinatorial and show that this is functionally significant. We also find that SFs appear to combine to affect splicing in two modes—they either bind in close proximity within the same intron or they appear to bind to separate regions of the intron in a conserved order. Finally, we find that the genes whose splicing are regulated by multiple SFs are highly enriched for genes involved in the cytoskeleton and in ion channels that are key for neurotransmission. Together, this shows that specific classes of genes have complex combinatorial regulation of splicing and that this combinatorial regulation is critical for normal development to occur.




Tan, J. H., & Fraser, A. G. (2017). The combinatorial control of alternative splicing in C. elegans. PLoS Genetics, 13(11).

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