Background: Coilin is the signature protein of the Cajal body, a conserved nuclear organelle involved in multiple aspects of small ribonucleoprotein (RNP) biogenesis. Coilin is required for Cajal body homeostasis in both plants and animals. Mice lacking coilin are viable when the mutation is crossed to an outbred strain but only partially viable when crossed to inbred lines.
Methodology/principal findings: In order to clarify this issue, we backcrossed the coilin deletion onto the C57BL6/J background for ten generations and then investigated the consequences of coilin removal on overall viability and reproductive success. We conclude that semi-lethal phenotype observed in mixed-background crosses is due to loss of the Coilin gene (or a very tightly-linked locus). Interestingly, coilin knockout embryos die relatively late in gestation, between E13.5 and birth. We show that the maternal contribution of coilin is not important for organismal viability. Importantly, coilin knockout mice display significant fertility and fecundity defects. Mutant males that escape the embryonic lethality display reduced testis size, however, both males and females contribute to the observed reduction in reproductive fitness.
Conclusions/significance: The evolutionary conservation of coilin from plants to animals suggests that the protein plays an important role, perhaps coordinating the activities of various RNA-processing machineries. Our observations are consistent with the idea that coilin functions to ensure robust organismal development, especially during periods of rapid growth.