Human pre-mRNA processing relies on multi-subunit macromolecular complexes, which recognize specific RNA sequence elements essential for assembly and activity. Canonical pre-mRNA processing proceeds via the recognition of a polyadenylation signal (PAS) and a downstream sequence element (DSE), and produces polyadenylated mature mRNAs, while replication-dependent (RD) histone pre-mRNA processing requires association with a stem-loop (SL) motif and a histone downstream element (HDE), and produces cleaved but non-polyadenylated mature mRNAs. H2AC18 mRNA, a specific H2A RD histone pre-mRNA, can be processed to give either a non-polyadenylated mRNA, ending at the histone SL, or a polyadenylated mRNA. Here, we reveal how H2AC18 captures the two human pre-mRNA processing complexes in a mutually exclusive mode by overlapping a canonical PAS (AAUAAA) sequence element with a HDE. Disruption of the PAS sequence on H2AC18 pre-mRNA prevents recruitment of the canonical complex in vitro, without affecting the histone machinery. This shows how the relative position of cis-acting elements in histone pre-mRNAs allows the selective recruitment of distinct human pre-mRNA complexes, thereby expanding the capability to regulate 3' processing and polyadenylation.
© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.