Network theory reveals principles of spliceosome structure and dynamics

Structure. 2021 Sep 24;S0969-2126(21)00331-2. doi: 10.1016/j.str.2021.09.003. Online ahead of print.


Cryoelectron microscopy has revolutionized spliceosome structural biology, and structures representing much of the splicing process have been determined. Comparison of these structures is challenging due to extreme dynamics of the splicing machinery and the thousands of changing interactions during splicing. We have used network theory to analyze splicing factor interactions by constructing structure-based networks from protein-protein, protein-RNA, and RNA-RNA interactions found in eight different spliceosome structures. Our analyses reveal that connectivity dynamics result in step-specific impacts of factors on network topology. The spliceosome's connectivity is focused on the active site, in part due to contributions from nonglobular proteins. Many essential factors exhibit large shifts in centralities during splicing. Others show transiently high betweenness centralities at certain stages, thereby suggesting mechanisms for regulating splicing by briefly bridging otherwise poorly connected network nodes. These observations provide insights into organizing principles of the spliceosome and provide frameworks for comparative analysis of other macromolecular machines.

Keywords: RNA; centrality; cryo-EM; network theory; pre-mRNA splicing; snRNP; spliceosome.