Studies on the regulation of gene expression in eukaryotes in the past 20 years have consistently revealed increasing levels of complexity. Thirty years ago it seemed that we had understood the basic principles of gene regulation in eukaryotes. It was thought that regulation of transcription was the first and most important stage at which gene expression was regulated, and transcriptional regulation was considered to be very simple, with DNA-binding activators and repressors talking to the basic transcription machinery. This simple model was overthrown when it became clear that other stages of gene expression are also highly regulated. More recently, other dogmas have started to collapse. In particular, the idea that a linkage between the different steps in gene expression is restricted to processes ongoing in the same compartment has fallen out of favor. It is now evident that functional and physical linkage occurs in eukaryotes. We know that factors contributing to transcription in the nucleus can be found in the cytoplasm, and that RNA binding proteins that contribute to RNA decay in the cytoplasm are present in the nucleus. However, shuttling of such factors between nucleus and cytoplasm has traditionally been thought to serve a simple regulatory purpose, for instance, to avoid untimely activation of a transcription factor in the nucleus. Alternatively, it was thought to be necessary to recruit RNA binding proteins to the relevant RNAs. The notion that is now emerging is that factors thought to have evolved to specialize in regulating a single step of gene regulation in one cellular compartment may be contributing to the regulation of mRNAs at multiple steps along the lifecycle of an mRNA.
Keywords: RNA binding proteins; mRNA decay; mRNA imprinting; nucleo-cytoplasmic shuttling; transcription.