Biochemical and genetic analysis of RNA processing and decay
Gene expression is the conduit by which genetic information is connected into cellular phenotypes. Recently, it was shown that gene expression in mammalian cells is governed, at least in part, by the expression of short double stranded RNA (dsRNA). This mode of gene regulation is influenced by a large group of dsRNA binding proteins that could either stabilize or trigger the degradation of dsRNA. Indeed, double stranded RNA (dsRNA) specific ribonucleases (RNases) play an important role in regulating gene expression. In most eukaryotes, members of the dsRNA specific RNase III family trigger RNA degradation and initiate cellular immune response. Disruption of human . RNase III (Dicer) deregulates fetal gene expression and promotes the development of cancer. However, very little is known about the housekeeping function of eukaryotic RNase III and the mechanism by which they distinguish between exogenous and endogenous cellular RNA species. This thesis elucidates how dsRNAs are selected for cleavage and demonstrates their contribution to RNA metabolism in yeast as model eukaryote. Initially, the reactivity determinants of yeast RNase III (Rnt1p) were identified in vitro and used to study the global impact of Rnt1p on the processing of non-coding RNA. The results indicate that Rnt1p is required for the processing of all small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs) involved in rRNA methylation and identify a new role of Rnt1p in the processing of intronic snoRNAs. It was shown that Rnt1p cleavage helps to coordinate the expression of some ribosomal protein genes hosting intronic snoRNAs. Direct snoRNA processing from the pre-mRNA blocks the expression of the host gene, while delayed snoRNA processing from the excised intron allows the expression of both genes. In this way, the cell can carefully calibrate the amount of snoRNA and ribosomal proteins required for ribosome biogenesis. In addition, a global analysis of snoRNA processing identified new forms of Rnt1p cleavage signals that do not exhibit a conserved sequence motif but instead use a new RNA fold to recruit the enzyme to the cleavage site. This finding led to the conclusion that Rnt1p may use a wide combination of structural motifs to identify its substrates and thus increases the theoretical number of potential degradation targets in vivo . To evaluate this possibility, a new search for snoRNA independent Rnt1p cleavage targets was performed. Interestingly, many Rnt1p cleavage signals were identified in intergenic regions devoid of known RNA transcripts. In vivo , it was shown that Rnt1p induce the termination of non-polyadenylated transcripts and functions as a surveillance mechanism for transcription read-through. This finding directly links Rnt1p to the transcription machinery and provides a new mechanism for polyadenylation independent transcription termination. Together the work described in this thesis presents an example of how eukaryotic RNase III may identify its substrates and present a case study where transcription, RNA processing and stability are linked.