Post-transcriptional control of cellular differentiation by the RNA exosome complex

Nucleic Acids Res. 2020 Oct 29;gkaa883. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkaa883. Online ahead of print.


Given the complexity of intracellular RNA ensembles and vast phenotypic remodeling intrinsic to cellular differentiation, it is instructive to consider the role of RNA regulatory machinery in controlling differentiation. Dynamic post-transcriptional regulation of protein-coding and non-coding transcripts is vital for establishing and maintaining proteomes that enable or oppose differentiation. By contrast to extensively studied transcriptional mechanisms governing differentiation, many questions remain unanswered regarding the involvement of post-transcriptional mechanisms. Through its catalytic activity to selectively process or degrade RNAs, the RNA exosome complex dictates the levels of RNAs comprising multiple RNA classes, thereby regulating chromatin structure, gene expression and differentiation. Although the RNA exosome would be expected to control diverse biological processes, studies to elucidate its biological functions and how it integrates into, or functions in parallel with, cell type-specific transcriptional mechanisms are in their infancy. Mechanistic analyses have demonstrated that the RNA exosome confers expression of a differentiation regulatory receptor tyrosine kinase, downregulates the telomerase RNA component TERC, confers genomic stability and promotes DNA repair, which have considerable physiological and pathological implications. In this review, we address how a broadly operational RNA regulatory complex interfaces with cell type-specific machinery to control cellular differentiation.