MicroRNAs control mRNA fate by compartmentalization based on 3' UTR length in male germ cells

Genome Biol. 2017 Jun 15;18(1):105. doi: 10.1186/s13059-017-1243-x.


Background: Post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression can be achieved through the control of mRNA stability, cytoplasmic compartmentalization, 3' UTR length and translational efficacy. Spermiogenesis, a process through which haploid male germ cells differentiate into spermatozoa, represents an ideal model for studying post-transcriptional regulation in vivo because it involves a large number of transcripts that are physically sequestered in ribonucleoprotein particles (RNPs) and thus subjected to delayed translation. To explore how small RNAs regulate mRNA fate, we conducted RNA-Seq analyses to determine not only the levels of both mRNAs and small noncoding RNAs, but also their cytoplasmic compartmentalization during spermiogenesis.

Result: Among all small noncoding RNAs studied, miRNAs displayed the most dynamic changes in both abundance and subcytoplasmic localization. mRNAs with shorter 3' UTRs became increasingly enriched in RNPs from pachytene spermatocytes to round spermatids, and the enrichment of shorter 3' UTR mRNAs in RNPs coincided with newly synthesized miRNAs that target these mRNAs at sites closer to the stop codon. In contrast, the translocation of longer 3' UTR mRNAs from RNPs to polysomes correlated with the production of new miRNAs that target these mRNAs at sites distal to the stop codon.

Conclusions: miRNAs appear to control cytoplasmic compartmentalization of mRNAs based on 3' UTR length. Our data suggest that transcripts with longer 3' UTRs tend to contain distal miRNA binding sites and are thus targeted to polysomes for translation followed by degradation. In contrast, those with shorter 3' UTRs only possess proximal miRNA binding sites, which, therefore, are targeted into RNPs for enrichment and delayed translation.

Keywords: 3′ UTR length; Cytoplasmic compartmentalization; Delayed translation; Fertility; Germ cell; Small RNA; mRNA fate; miRNA.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 3' Untranslated Regions / genetics
  • Animals
  • Cell Compartmentation / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Germ Cells / growth & development*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • Spermatogenesis / genetics*
  • Spermatozoa / growth & development


  • 3' Untranslated Regions
  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Messenger