HRPU-2, a Homolog of Mammalian hnRNP U, Regulates Synaptic Transmission by Controlling the Expression of SLO-2 Potassium Channel in Caenorhabditis elegans

J Neurosci. 2018 Jan 31;38(5):1073-1084. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1991-17.2017. Epub 2017 Dec 7.


Slo2 channels are large-conductance potassium channels abundantly expressed in the nervous system. However, it is unclear how their expression level in neurons is regulated. Here we report that HRPU-2, an RNA-binding protein homologous to mammalian heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein U (hnRNP U), plays an important role in regulating the expression of SLO-2 (a homolog of mammalian Slo2) in Caenorhabditis elegans Loss-of-function (lf) mutants of hrpu-2 were isolated in a genetic screen for suppressors of a sluggish phenotype caused by a hyperactive SLO-2. In hrpu-2(lf) mutants, SLO-2-mediated delayed outward currents in neurons are greatly decreased, and neuromuscular synaptic transmission is enhanced. These mutant phenotypes can be rescued by expressing wild-type HRPU-2 in neurons. HRPU-2 binds to slo-2 mRNA, and hrpu-2(lf) mutants show decreased SLO-2 protein expression. In contrast, hrpu-2(lf) does not alter the expression of either the BK channel SLO-1 or the Shaker type potassium channel SHK-1. hrpu-2(lf) mutants are indistinguishable from wild type in gross motor neuron morphology and locomotion behavior. Together, these observations suggest that HRPU-2 plays important roles in SLO-2 function by regulating SLO-2 protein expression, and that SLO-2 is likely among a restricted set of proteins regulated by HRPU-2. Mutations of human Slo2 channel and hnRNP U are strongly linked to epileptic disorders and intellectual disability. The findings of this study suggest a potential link between these two molecules in human patients.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein U (hnRNP U) belongs to a family of RNA-binding proteins that play important roles in controlling gene expression. Recent studies have established a strong link between mutations of hnRNP U and human epilepsies and intellectual disability. However, it is unclear how mutations of hnRNP U may cause such disorders. This study shows that mutations of HRPU-2, a worm homolog of mammalian hnRNP U, result in dysfunction of a Slo2 potassium channel, which is critical to neuronal function. Because mutations of Slo2 channels are also strongly associated with epileptic encephalopathies and intellectual disability in humans, the findings of this study point to a potential mechanism underlying neurological disorders caused by hnRNP U mutations.

Keywords: C. elegans; HRPU-2; SLO-2; hnRNP U; synaptic transmission.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / physiology*
  • Epilepsy / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Heterogeneous-Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein U / genetics
  • Heterogeneous-Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein U / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / genetics
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Motor Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Heterogeneous-Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein U
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • SLO-2 protein, C elegans