The neuron specific Drosophila ELAV protein belongs to the ELAV family of RNA binding proteins which are characterized by three highly conserved RNA recognition motifs, an N-terminal domain, and a hinge region between the second and third RNA recognition motifs. Despite their highly conserved RNA recognition motifs the ELAV family members are a group of proteins with diverse posttranscriptional functions including splicing regulation, mRNA stability and translatability and have a variety of subcellular localizations. The role of the ELAV hinge in localization and function was examined using transgenes encoding ELAV hinge deletions, in vivo. Subcellular localization of the hinge mutant proteins revealed that residues between amino acids 333-374 are necessary for nuclear localization. This delineated sequence has no significant homology to classical nuclear localization sequences, but it is similar to the recently characterized nucleocytoplasmic shuttling sequence, the HNS, from a human ELAV family member, HuR. This defined sequence, however, was insufficient for nuclear localization as tested using hinge-GFP fusion proteins. Functional assays revealed that mutant proteins that fail to localize to the nucleus are unable to provide ELAV vital function, but their function is significantly restored when translocated into the nucleus by a heterologous nuclear localization sequence tag.
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