Background: Human SA/STAG proteins, homologues of the yeast Irr1/Scc3 cohesin, are the least studied constituents of the sister chromatid cohesion complex crucial for proper chromosome segregation. The two SA paralogues, SA1 and SA2, show some specificity towards the chromosome region they stabilize, and SA2, but not SA1, has been shown to participate in transcriptional regulation as well. The molecular basis of this functional divergence is unknown.
Methodology/principal findings: In silico analysis indicates numerous putative nuclear localization (NLS) and export (NES) signals in the SA proteins, suggesting the possibility of their nucleocytoplasmic shuttling. We studied the functionality of those putative signals by expressing fluorescently tagged SA1 and SA2 in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Only the N-terminal NLS turned out to be functional in SA1. In contrast, the SA2 protein has at least two functional NLS and also two functional NES. Depending on the balance between these opposing signals, SA2 resides in the nucleus or is distributed throughout the cell. Validation of the above conclusions in HeLa cells confirmed that the same N-terminal NLS of SA1 is functional in those cells. In contrast, in SA2 the principal NLS functioning in HeLa cells is different from that identified in yeast and is localized to the C-terminus.
Conclusions/significance: This is the first demonstration of the possibility of non-nuclear localization of an SA protein. The reported difference in the organization between the two SA homologues may also be relevant to their partially divergent functions. The mechanisms determining subcellular localization of cohesins are only partially conserved between yeast and human cells.