The exon-junction complex helicase eIF4A3 controls cell fate via coordinated regulation of ribosome biogenesis and translational output

Sci Adv. 2021 Aug 4;7(32):eabf7561. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abf7561. Print 2021 Aug.


Eukaryotic initiation factor 4A-III (eIF4A3), a core helicase component of the exon junction complex, is essential for splicing, mRNA trafficking, and nonsense-mediated decay processes emerging as targets in cancer therapy. Here, we unravel eIF4A3's tumor-promoting function by demonstrating its role in ribosome biogenesis (RiBi) and p53 (de)regulation. Mechanistically, eIF4A3 resides in nucleoli within the small subunit processome and regulates rRNA processing via R-loop clearance. EIF4A3 depletion induces cell cycle arrest through impaired RiBi checkpoint-mediated p53 induction and reprogrammed translation of cell cycle regulators. Multilevel omics analysis following eIF4A3 depletion pinpoints pathways of cell death regulation and translation of alternative mouse double minute homolog 2 (MDM2) transcript isoforms that control p53. EIF4A3 expression and subnuclear localization among clinical cancer specimens correlate with the RiBi status rendering eIF4A3 an exploitable vulnerability in high-RiBi tumors. We propose a concept of eIF4A3's unexpected role in RiBi, with implications for cancer pathogenesis and treatment.