Muscle-specific splicing factors ASD-2 and SUP-12 cooperatively switch alternative pre-mRNA processing patterns of the ADF/cofilin gene in Caenorhabditis elegans

PLoS Genet. 2012;8(10):e1002991. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002991. Epub 2012 Oct 11.


Pre-mRNAs are often processed in complex patterns in tissue-specific manners to produce a variety of protein isoforms from single genes. However, mechanisms orchestrating the processing of the entire transcript are not well understood. Muscle-specific alternative pre-mRNA processing of the unc-60 gene in Caenorhabditis elegans, encoding two tissue-specific isoforms of ADF/cofilin with distinct biochemical properties in regulating actin organization, provides an excellent in vivo model of complex and tissue-specific pre-mRNA processing; it consists of a single first exon and two separate series of downstream exons. Here we visualize the complex muscle-specific processing pattern of the unc-60 pre-mRNA with asymmetric fluorescence reporter minigenes. By disrupting juxtaposed CUAAC repeats and UGUGUG stretch in intron 1A, we demonstrate that these elements are required for retaining intron 1A, as well as for switching the processing patterns of the entire pre-mRNA from non-muscle-type to muscle-type. Mutations in genes encoding muscle-specific RNA-binding proteins ASD-2 and SUP-12 turned the colour of the unc-60 reporter worms. ASD-2 and SUP-12 proteins specifically and cooperatively bind to CUAAC repeats and UGUGUG stretch in intron 1A, respectively, to form a ternary complex in vitro. Immunohistochemical staining and RT-PCR analyses demonstrate that ASD-2 and SUP-12 are also required for switching the processing patterns of the endogenous unc-60 pre-mRNA from UNC-60A to UNC-60B in muscles. Furthermore, systematic analyses of partially spliced RNAs reveal the actual orders of intron removal for distinct mRNA isoforms. Taken together, our results demonstrate that muscle-specific splicing factors ASD-2 and SUP-12 cooperatively promote muscle-specific processing of the unc-60 gene, and provide insight into the mechanisms of complex pre-mRNA processing; combinatorial regulation of a single splice site by two tissue-specific splicing regulators determines the binary fate of the entire transcript.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actin Depolymerizing Factors / genetics*
  • Actin Depolymerizing Factors / metabolism
  • Alternative Splicing*
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Binding Sites
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Order
  • Introns
  • Microfilament Proteins / genetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Muscles / metabolism*
  • Mutation
  • Nucleotide Motifs
  • Organ Specificity / genetics
  • Protein Binding
  • RNA Precursors / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Sequence Alignment


  • ASD-2 protein, C elegans
  • Actin Depolymerizing Factors
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Microfilament Proteins
  • RNA Precursors
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA-Binding Proteins
  • Sup-12 protein, C elegans
  • UNC-60 protein, C elegans