Background: Tissue-specific alternative pre-mRNA splicing is a widely used mechanism for gene regulation and the generation of different protein isoforms, but relatively little is known about the factors and mechanisms that mediate this process. Tissue-specific RNA-binding proteins could mediate alternative pre-mRNA splicing. In Drosophila melanogaster, the RNA-binding protein encoded by the elav (embryonic lethal abnormal visual system) gene is a candidate for such a role. The ELAV protein is expressed exclusively in neurons, and is important for the formation and maintenance of the nervous system.
Results: In this study, photoreceptor neurons genetically depleted of ELAV, and elav-null central nervous system neurons, were analyzed immunocytochemically for the expression of neural proteins. In both situations, the lack of ELAV corresponded with a decrease in the immunohistochemical signal of the neural-specific isoform of Neuroglian, which is generated by alternative splicing. Furthermore, when ELAV was expressed ectopically in cells that normally express only the non-neural isoform of Neuroglian, we observed the generation of the neural isoform of Neuroglian.
Conclusions: Drosophila ELAV promotes the generation of the neuron-specific isoform of Neuroglian by the regulation of pre-mRNA splicing. The findings reported in this paper demonstrate that ELAV is necessary, and the ectopic expression of ELAV in imaginal disc cells is sufficient, to mediate neuron-specific alternative splicing.