The Muscleblind family of proteins: an emerging class of regulators of developmentally programmed alternative splicing

Differentiation. 2006 Mar;74(2-3):65-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1432-0436.2006.00060.x.


Alternative splicing is widely used to generate protein diversity and to control gene expression in many biological processes, including cell fate determination and apoptosis. In this review, we focus on the Muscleblind family of tissue-specific alternative splicing regulators. Muscleblind proteins bind pre-mRNA through an evolutionarily conserved tandem CCCH zinc finger domain. Human Muscleblind homologs MBNL1, MBNL2 and MBNL3 promote inclusion or exclusion of specific exons on different pre-mRNAs by antagonizing the activity of CUG-BP and ETR-3-like factors (CELF proteins) bound to distinct intronic sites. The relative activities of Muscleblind and CELF proteins control a key developmental switch. Defined transcripts follow an embryonic splice pattern when CELF activity predominates, whereas they follow an adult pattern when Muscleblind activity prevails. Human MBNL proteins show functional specializations. While MBNL1 seems to promote muscle differentiation, MBNL3 appears to function in an opposing manner inhibiting expression of muscle differentiation markers. MBNL2, on the other hand, participates in a new RNA-dependent protein localization mechanism involving recruitment of integrin alpha3 protein to focal adhesions. Both muscleblind mutant Drosophila embryos and Mbnl1 knockout mice show muscle abnormalities and altered splicing of specific transcripts. In addition to regulating terminal muscle differentiation through alternative splicing control, results by several groups suggest that Muscleblind participates in the differentiation of photoreceptors, neurons, adipocytes and blood cell types. Misregulation of MBNL activity can lead to human pathologies. Through mechanisms not completely identified yet, expression of transcripts containing large non-coding CUG or CCUG repeat expansions mimics muscleblind loss-of-function phenotypes. Archetypical within this class of disorders are myotonic dystrophies. Our understanding of the biology of Muscleblind proteins has increased dramatically over the last few years, but several key issues remain unsolved. Defining the mechanism of the activity of Muscleblind proteins, their splicing partners, and the functional relevance of its several protein isoforms are just a few examples.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alternative Splicing*
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Myotonic Dystrophy / genetics
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / classification
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Zinc Fingers


  • MBNL1 protein, human
  • MBNL2 protein, human
  • MBNL3 protein, human
  • RNA-Binding Proteins