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Posts Tagged ‘UV stress’


Protein binding to RNAs in brain

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

Regulatory consequences of neuronal ELAV-like protein binding to coding and non-coding RNAs in human brain

 Claudia Scheckel, 

Neuronal ELAV-like (nELAVL) RNA binding proteins have been linked to numerous neurological disorders. We performed crosslinking-immunoprecipitation and RNAseq on human brain, and identified nELAVL binding sites on 8681 transcripts. Using knockout mice and RNAi in human neuroblastoma cells, we showed that nELAVL intronic and 3′ UTR binding regulates human RNA splicing and abundance. We validated hundreds of nELAVL targets among which were important neuronal and disease-associated transcripts, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD) transcripts. We therefore investigated RNA regulation in AD brain, and observed differential splicing of 150 transcripts, which in some cases correlated with differential nELAVL binding. Unexpectedly, the most significant change of nELAVL binding was evident on non-coding Y RNAs. nELAVL/Y RNA complexes were specifically remodeled in AD and after acute UV stress in neuroblastoma cells. We propose that the increased nELAVL/Y RNA association during stress may lead to nELAVL sequestration, redistribution of nELAVL target binding, and altered neuronal RNA splicing.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.10421.001

 

eLife digest

When a gene is active, its DNA is copied into a molecule of RNA. This molecule then undergoes a process called splicing which removes certain segments, and the resulting ‘messenger RNA’ molecule is then translated into protein. Many messenger RNAs go through alternative splicing, whereby different segments can be included or excluded from the final molecule. This allows more than one type of protein to be produced from a single gene.

Specialized RNA binding proteins associate with messenger RNAs and regulate not only their splicing, but also their abundance and location within the cell. These activities are crucially important in the brain where forming memories and learning new skills requires thousands of proteins to be made rapidly. Many members of a family of RNA binding proteins called ELAV-like proteins are unique to neurons. These proteins have also been associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, but it was not known which messenger RNAs were the targets of these proteins in the human brain.

Scheckel, Drapeau et al. have now addressed this question and used a method termed ‘CLIP’ to identify thousands of messenger RNAs that directly bind to neuronal ELAV-like proteins in the human brain. Many of these messenger RNAs coded for proteins that are important for the health of neurons, and neuronal ELAV-like proteins were shown to regulate both the alternative splicing and the abundance of these messenger RNAs.

The regulation of RNA molecules in post-mortem brain samples of people with or without Alzheimer’s disease was then compared. Scheckel, Drapeau et al. unexpectedly observed that, in the Alzheimer’s disease patients, the neuronal ELAV-like proteins were very often associated with a class of RNA molecules known as Y RNAs. These RNA molecules do not code for proteins, and are therefore classified as non-coding RNA. Moreover, massive shifts in the binding of ELAV-like proteins onto Y RNAs were observed in neurons grown in the laboratory that had been briefly stressed by exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Scheckel, Drapeau et al. suggest that the strong tendency of neuronal ELAV-like proteins to bind to Y RNAs in conditions of short- or long-term stress, including Alzheimer’s disease, might prevent these proteins from associating with their normal messenger RNA targets. This was supported by finding that some messenger RNAs targeted by neuronal ELAV-like proteins showed altered regulation after stress. Such changes to the normal regulation of these messenger RNAs could have a large impact on the proteins that are produced from them.

Together, these findings link Y RNAs to both neuronal stress and Alzheimer’s disease, and suggest a new way that a cell can alter which messenger RNAs are expressed in response to changes in its environment. The next step is to explore what causes the shift in neuronal ELAV-like protein binding from messenger RNAs to Y RNAs and how it might contribute to disease.

DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.10421.002

 

RNA binding proteins (RBPs) associate with RNAs throughout their life cycle, regulating all aspects of RNA metabolism and function. More than 800 RBPs have been described in human cells (Castello et al., 2012). The unique structure and function of neurons, and the need to rapidly adapt RNA regulation in the brain both within and at sites distant from the nucleus, are consistent with specialized roles for RBPs in the brain. Indeed, mammalian neurons have developed their own system of RNA regulation (Darnell, 2013), and RBP:mRNA interactions are thought to regulate local protein translation at synapses, perhaps underlying learning and long-term memory (McKee et al., 2005).

Numerous RBPs have been linked to human neurological disorders (reviewed in Richter and Klann (2009)). For example, FUS, TDP-43 and ATXN2 mutations have been found in familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients (Elden et al., 2010; Vance et al., 2009; Sreedharan et al., 2008), TDP-43has additionally been associated with frontotemporal lobar degeneration, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and Parkinson’s Disease (PD) (Baloh, 2011), STEX has been linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 4 (Chen et al., 2004), and spinal muscular atrophy can be caused by mutations in SMN (Clermont et al., 1995).

The neuronal ELAV-like (ELAVL) and NOVA RBPs are targeted by the immune system in paraneoplastic neurodegenerative disorders (Buckanovich et al., 1996; Szabo et al., 1991). Mammalian ELAVL proteins include the ubiquitously expressed paralog ELAVL1 (also termed HUA or HUR) and the three neuron-specific paralogs, ELAVL2, 3 and 4 (also termed HUB, C, and D, and collectively referred to as nELAVL; Ince-Dunn et al., 2012). nELAVL proteins are expressed exclusively in neurons in mice (Okano and Darnell, 1997), and they are important for neuronal differentiation and neurite outgrowth in cultured neurons (Akamatsu et al., 1999; Kasashima et al., 1999; Mobarak et al., 2000; Anderson et al., 2000; Antic et al., 1999; Aranda-Abreu et al., 1999). Redundancy between the three nELAVL isoforms complicates in vivo studies of their individual functions. Nevertheless, even haploinsuffiency of Elavl3 is sufficient to trigger cortical hypersynchronization, and Elavl3 and Elavl4 null mice display defects in motor function and neuronal maturation, respectively (Akamatsu et al., 2005; Ince-Dunn et al., 2012).

ELAVL proteins have been shown to regulate several aspects of RNA metabolism. In vitro and in tissue culture cells, nELAVL proteins have been implicated in the regulation of stabilization and/or translation of specific mRNAs, as well as in the regulation of splicing and polyadenylation of select transcripts [reviewed in Pascale et al. (2004)]. A more comprehensive approach was taken by immunoprecipitating an overexpressed isoform of ELAVL4 in mice, although such RNA immunoprecipitation experiments cannot distinguish between direct and indirect targets (Bolognani et al., 2010). Recently, direct binding of nELAVL to target RNAs in mouse brain was demonstrated by high-throughput sequencing of RNA isolated by crosslinking immunoprecipitation (HITS-CLIP; Ince-Dunn et al., 2012); these data, coupled with transcriptome profiling of Elavl3/4 KO mice, demonstrated that nELAVL directly regulates neuronal mRNA abundance and alternative splicing by binding to U-rich elements with interspersed purine residues in 3’UTRs and introns in mouse brain (Ince-Dunn et al., 2012).

While genome-wide approaches have been applied to studying nELAVL proteins in mice, the targets of nELAVL in the human brain remain largely unknown. This is of particular importance, as nELAVL proteins have been implicated in neurological disorders such as AD (Amadio et al., 2009; Kang et al., 2014) and PD (DeStefano et al., 2008; Noureddine et al., 2005). Hence, to advance our understanding of the function of nELAVL in humans and its link to human disease, we set out to investigate nELAVL:RNA interactions in the human brain.

To globally identify transcripts directly bound by nELAVL in human neurons, we generated a genome wide RNA binding map of nELAVL in human brain using CLIP. CLIP allows the identification of functional RNA-protein interactions in vivo by using UV-irradiation of intact tissues to covalently crosslink and then purify RNA-protein complexes present in vivo (Licatalosi and Darnell, 2010; Ule et al., 2003). This method has been adopted for a variety of RBPs (Darnell, 2010; 2013; Moore et al., 2014). Here, we systemically identified tens of thousands of reproducible nELAVL binding sites in human brain and showed that nELAVL binds transcripts that are important for neurological function and that have been linked to neurological diseases such as AD. We validated the functional consequences of nELAVL binding in mice and cultured human neuroblastoma cells and showed that the loss of nELAVL affected mRNA abundance and alternative splicing of hundreds of transcripts. We further investigated RNA regulation in AD brains, and found that numerous transcripts were differentially spliced in AD, which correlated with differential nELAVL binding in some cases. Remarkably, we observed the most significant increase in nELAVL binding in AD on a class of non-coding RNAs, Y RNAs. We recapitulated these findings in human neuroblastoma cells, showing that nELAVL binding is linked to Y ribonucleoprotein (RNP) remodeling acutely during UV-induced stress, and chronically in AD.

 

Article

Figure 1.

Figure 1.Identification of nELAVL targets in human brain.

(A) Illustration depicting the brain area analyzed by CLIP and RNAseq. The image was generated using BodyParts3D/Anatomography service by DBCLS, Japan. (B) SDS-PAGE separation of radiolabeled nELAVL-RNP complexes. nELAVL-RNP complexes from 40 mg of human brain were specifically immunoprecipitated with Hu-antiserum, compared to control serum (compare lane #4 to #1), which is dependent on UV irradiation (compare lane #4 to #2). Wide-range nELAVL-RNP complexes collapse to a single band in the presence of high RNAse concentration (lane #3). RNAse dilutions: + 19.23 Units/µl; +++ 3846 Units/µl. As in studies of mouse nELAVL (Ince-Dunn et al., 2012), higher molecular weight bands were present in nELAVL CLIP autoradiograms, which correspond at least in part to nELAVL multimers. (C) Shown is the most enriched motif in the top 500 nELAVL peaks, determined with MEME-ChiP. (D) Pie chart of the genomic peak distribution of 75,592 nELAVL peaks (p < 0.01; present in at least 5 individuals). (E) nELAVL binding correlates with mRNA abundance. nELAVL binding (CLIP tags within binding sites per transcript) was compared to mRNA abundance (RNAseq tags per transcript). Only expressed genes with peaks are shown and the correlation coefficient is indicated. The top 1000 targets were identified as genes with highest normalized nELAVL binding (binding sites were normalized for mRNA abundance and summarized per gene). (F) Subnetwork of direct protein-protein interactions of top nELAVL targets. The 1000 top nELAVL target genes and six additional genes highly associated with AD (APP, BACE1, MAPT, PICALM, PSEN1 and PSEN2) were clustered using the organic layout algorithm in yEd. Genes with no direct interactions with other target genes were excluded, leaving 172 nodes from the top nELAVL target list (green) and 5 AD associated genes (blue) in this subnetwork. The size of the nodes is proportional to the connectivity degree. Six clusters (gray circles) containing at least 10 nodes were identified, and subjected to enrichment analysis (see Supplementary file 1F).

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.10421.003

 

Figure 2.

Figure 2.nELAVL mediated regulation is conserved in mouse and human.

(A) Overlap of nELAVL targets in human and mouse. Human nELAVL targets (n = 8681) were intersected with mouse targets identified by RIP (Bolognani et al., 2010) or HITS-CLIP (Ince-Dunn et al., 2012). 538 genes were identified as nELAVL targets by RIP and were expressed in human brain. 1978 expressed genes had HITS-CLIP nELAVL clusters that were present in at least 3 samples (biological complexity (BC) ≥ 3). Both overlaps (n = 500 and n = 1835) were highly significant (p = 6.5e-74 and p = 2.3e-287; hypergeometric test), compared to expressed transcripts (n = 14,737). (B) Only few nELAVL binding sites are conserved between mice and human, which are predominantly present within 3’UTRs. The genomic distribution of all human nELAVL binding sites (total) and nELAVL binding sites conserved in mouse is shown. The number of nELAVL binding sites (n) within each category is indicated. (C) UCSC Genome Browser images illustrating the 3’UTRs of RAB6B, HCN3, and KCNMB2 and their normalized nELAVL binding profile in human brain. The maximum PeakHeight is indicated by numbers in the right corner. (D) The mRNA levels of transcripts with nELAVL 3’UTR binding decrease in Elavl3/4 knockout (KO) mice. Shown are the mRNA expression fold changes (knockout/wildtype) of RAB6B, HCN3, and KCNMB2. *p< 0.01 (two-tailed t test; Ince-Dunn et al., 2012). (E) UCSC Genome Browser images showing pink cassette exons in the DST, NRXN1, and CELF2 genes and their normalized nELAVL binding profiles in human brain. The maximum PeakHeight is indicated by numbers in the right corner. (F) nELAVL binding adjacent to a cassette exon in the DST gene prevents exon inclusion. Downstream nELAVL binding promotes the inclusion of cassette exons in the NRXN1 and CELF2 genes. The change in alternative exon inclusion (delta inclusion (ΔI): wildtype – Elavl3/4 KO) is shown. * significantly changing (analyzed by Aspire2;Ince-Dunn et al., 2012).

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.10421.010

 

Figure 3.

Figure 3.nELAVL proteins regulate mRNA abundance of human brain targets.

(A) nELAVL depletion causes mRNA level changes in IMR-32 neuroblastoma cells. The mRNA abundance change was plotted against average mRNA abundance. Significantly changing transcripts (FDR < 0.05; n = 784) are colored in blue. Shown are only expressed genes (n = 12,743), and ELAVL1/2/3/4 transcripts are indicated. (B) nELAVL with exclusively 3’UTR binding decrease upon nELAVL RNAi depletion. Box plots represent the distribution of mRNA level differences between mock and nELAVL RNAi. We compared genes with exclusively 3’UTR (n = 2346) or intronic (n = 1693) binding that were expressed in IMR-32 cells. nELAVL binding was defined as CLIP tags within binding sites per transcript. Transcripts with exclusively 3’UTR binding were less abundant upon nELAVL RNAi compared to remaining transcripts (p = 3.8e-15; two-tailed t-test). In contrast, mRNA levels of transcripts with exclusively intron binding were even slightly increased compared to remaining transcripts (p = 1.7e-4; two-tailed t-test). (C) Transcripts with nELAVL 3’UTR binding decrease upon nELAVL RNAi. Cumulative fraction curves for genes with no 3’UTR nELAVL binding in human brain, 3’UTR binding, and top 3’UTR targets. Top targets were identified as 1000 genes with highest normalized nELAVL 3’UTR binding (binding sites were normalized for mRNA abundance before summarized per gene). 952 of the top 1000 targets were expressed in IMR-32 cells. A curve displacement to the left indicates a downregulation of mRNA abundance upon nELAVL RNAi. p values were calculated with a one-sided KS test, comparing (top) targets to non-targets. (D) Many transcripts that are decreasing upon nELAVL depletion are top nELAVL 3’UTR targets. The mRNA abundance change (nELAVL/mock RNAi) of transcripts expressed in IMR-32 cells and in human brain (n = 12,242) was plotted against average mRNA abundance. Significantly changing transcripts (FDR<0.05; n = 743) are colored in blue and additionally boxed if they are top nELAVL 3’UTR targets. Transcripts shown in E/F are indicated. (E) UCSC Genome Browser images illustrating the 3’UTRs of APPBP2, ATXN3, andSHANK2 and their normalized nELAVL binding profile in human brain. The maximum PeakHeight is indicated by numbers in the right corner. (F) The mRNA abundance of top nELAVL 3’UTR targets decreases upon nELAVL RNAi. Shown are the mRNA level changes (nELAVL/mock RNAi) of APPBP2, ATXN3, and SHANK2. * FDR<0.05 (derived from edgeR).

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.10421.012

 

Figure 4.

Figure 4.nELAVL regulates splicing of human brain targets.

(A) Analysis of splicing changes upon nELAVL RNAi. Shown is the exon inclusion fraction of cassette exons that are expressed in IMR-32 cells and in human brain (n = 7903). Significantly changing exons (FDR<0.05 and ΔI>0.1) are colored in light blue (n = 473), and additionally boxed in dark blue if adjacent (+/- 2.5 kb) to intronic nELAVL binding sites (n = 155). Significantly changing exons shown in (B/C) are boxed in pink. The two alternative events withinPICALM correspond to the same alternative exon with two different 3’ splice sites. (B) UCSC Genome Browser images depicting cassette exons in pink in the BIN1, PICALM, and APP genes and their normalized nELAVL binding profiles in human brain. The maximum PeakHeight is indicated by numbers in the right corner. (C) nELAVL binding downstream of cassette exons in BIN1 and PICALM promotes exon inclusion, whereas intronic nELAVL binding ofAPP prevents exon inclusion downstream and upstream. The change in alternative exon inclusion (ΔI: mock –nELAVL RNAi) is shown. *FDR< 0.0005; **FDR< 1e-4; ***FDR<1e-16 (GLM likelihood ratio test). (D) Normalized nELAVL binding map of nELAVL regulated exons. Only exons that changed significantly upon nELAVL RNAi (FDR<0.05 and ΔI>0.1) and that are adjacent (+/- 2.5 kb) to intronic nELAVL binding sites (n = 155) were included. Red and blue peaks represent binding associated with nELAVL-dependent exon inclusion and exclusion, respectively.

 

RNA regulation changes in AD

nELAVL has previously been linked to neurological diseases and we observed that nELAVL regulated the mRNA abundance and splicing of multiple disease-associated genes. We examined nELAVL binding in a set of genes with disease associated 3’UTR single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) (Bruno et al., 2012). We found that these genes were enriched among nELAVL 3’UTR targets (n = 200; p = 0.001; hypergeometric test), and that nELAVL binding sites directly overlapped with 45 disease associated SNPs, including SNPs associated with autism, schizophrenia, depression, AD, and PD (Figure 5—figure supplement 1, Supplementary file 3A).

nELAVL proteins have been implicated in AD (Amadio et al., 2009; Kang et al., 2014), and among the validated nELAVL regulated RNAs were also several AD-related transcripts, which led us to investigate additional AD-linked genes (hereafter termed AD genes; n = 96; Supplementary file 3B). Indeed, we found that the top nELAVL targets were enriched among AD genes (n = 11; p = 0.03; hypergeometric test; contained in Supplementary file 3B) as well as among AD risk loci identified in a genome-wide association study (GWAS) in AD (Naj et al., 2011) (n = 77; p = 1.7e-14; hypergeometric test; Supplementary file 3C). To investigate if nELAVL mediated regulation of AD related and other transcripts might be affected in AD, we performed nELAVL CLIP and RNAseq on AD subject brains, age-matched to control subjects (Figure 5—figure supplement 2, Supplementary file 1A/B and 3D). Importantly, ELAVL3/4 mRNA levels were similar between control and AD samples and ELAVL2 showed only a slight decrease in transcript abundance in AD brains (Supplementary file 1B), which allowed us to compare nELAVL binding profiles between control and AD brains. We did not detect many significant changes in nELAVL binding nor mRNA abundance (Figure 5A/B, Supplementary file 1B and 3D), probably due to the variation between human samples, the small sample size, and the potential heterogeneity of AD. We did however observe that 150 transcripts were differentially spliced in the 9 AD subjects (FDR<0.05 and ΔI>0.1; Figure 5C, Supplementary file 3E). Two of these transcripts, BIN1 and PTPRD, have previously been linked to AD (Tan et al., 2013; Ghani et al., 2012), suggesting that the differential splicing of these two transcripts as well as other RNAs might be linked to AD.

Figure 5.RNA regulation changes in AD.

(A) nELAVL binding changes in AD. The nELAVL peak binding change (AD/Control) was plotted against average nELAVL peak binding. Significantly changing peaks (FDR<0.05; n = 52) are colored in blue, and peaks within AD genes are colored in pink (1811 peaks within 69 genes). Shown are only peaks that are bound in control or AD brain (n = 115,393). (B) mRNA abundance changes in AD. The mRNA abundance change (AD/Control) was plotted against average mRNA abundance. Significantly changing transcripts (FDR<0.05; n = 3) are colored in blue, and AD transcripts are colored in pink (n = 89). Shown are only transcripts that are expressed in control or AD brain (n = 14,875). (C) Analysis of splicing changes in AD. Shown is the inclusion fraction of expressed cassette exons in control and AD subjects (n = 8163). Exons within AD genes are colored in pink (n = 79). Significantly changing exons (FDR<0.05 and ΔI>0.1) are colored in light blue (n = 170), and additionally boxed in pink if within AD genes (n = 2). (D) BIN1 is alternatively spliced in AD. UCSC Genome Browser image illustrating a cassette exon in the BIN1 gene and normalized nELAVL binding profiles in control and AD brain. The maximum PeakHeight is indicated by numbers in the right corner. Bar graphs depict the difference in alternative exon inclusion (ΔI: Control – AD) and nELAVL peak binding (AD/Control) in control and AD brain. Corresponding FDR values derived from edgeR are shown. The inclusion of the exon is promoted by nELAVL (see Figure 4), and exon inclusion as well as nELAVL peak binding are reduced in AD subjects.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.10421.015

 

As shown above (Figure 4), nELAVL depletion in IMR-32 cells was associated with the reduced inclusion of an alternative exon of BIN1, suggesting that nELAVL binding promotes the inclusion of this exon. Precisely this exon was differentially spliced in AD subjects, with AD subjects showing a reduced exon inclusion rate compared to control subjects (Figure 5D). Along with the differential exon inclusion, we observed that nELAVL peak binding was fourfold decreased in AD subjects (log2 fold change = -2.35; p = 0.16; Figure 5D). These results are consistent with nELAVL-mediated dysregulation of this exon in AD subjects, with decreased binding leading to decreased exon inclusion. In conclusion, while we did not detect global nELAVL binding and mRNA abundance changes in AD subjects, we observed that splicing of 150 transcripts was affected, which in some cases might be linked to nELAVL dysregulation.

Non-coding Y RNAs are bound by nELAVL in AD

The largest fold changes in nELAVL binding in AD (relative to the age-matched control population) occurred on a specific class of non-coding RNAs, Y RNAs (Wolin et al., 2013). Y RNAs are 100 nt long structured RNAs usually found in complex with RO60 (also known as TROVE2; Figure 6A; modified from Chen and Wolin, 2004). RO60 is believed to act as a sensor of RNA quality, targeting defective RNAs for degradation (Sim and Wolin, 2011). RO60 was initially identified as an autoantigen targeted in systemic lupus (Lerner et al., 1981) and some subjects with the paraneoplastic encephalopathy syndrome harbor both anti-RO and anti-nELAVL (Hu) autoantibodies (Manley et al., 1994). Four canonical Y RNAs, Y1/3/4/5, have been characterized in humans, but numerous slightly divergent copies of these Y RNAs, especially Y1 and Y3, are distributed throughout the human genome (Perreault et al., 2005).

Figure 6.

Figure 6.Non-coding Y RNAs are bound by nELAVL in AD.

(A) Secondary structures of Y1 and Y3. Binding sites of nELAVL and Ro are indicated. Modified from (Chen and Wolin, 2004). (B) The nELAVL binding motif (UUUUUU, allowing a G at any position) is enriched in nELAVL-bound Y RNAs compared to non-bound Y RNAs (p = 1.1e-7; Fisher’s exact test). Y RNAs were scanned for (T)6, allowing a G at any position. nELAVL-bound Y RNAs: nELAVL CLIP tags in at least two samples; n = 320. (C) nELAVL binding of Y RNAs increases in AD compared to control samples (p = 4.47e-51; paired one-sided Wilcoxon rank sum test). The axes depict nELAVL Y RNA binding (nELAVL CLIP tags per Y RNA) in control and AD subjects. Y RNAs with nELAVL binding motif are colored in green. (D) Y RNA levels do not change in AD. Y RNA abundance (RNAseq tags per Y RNA) in AD subjects was plotted against Y RNA abundance in control subjects.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.10421.018

 

Surprisingly, we observed nELAVL binding to a total of 320 Y RNAs, although Y RNA copies other than the canonical four Y1/3/4/5 genes had previously been considered to be non-functional and were labeled ‘pseudogenes’ (Supplementary file 3F). We found that 237 of the 320 nELAVL bound Y RNAs were Y3-like RNAs (Supplementary file 3F), and that nELAVL bound Y RNAs showed an enrichment of the nELAVL binding motif (202 Y RNAs contained UUUUUU, allowing a G at any one position), which is also present in the canonical hY3 RNA (Figure 6A/B). We examined the 118 nELAVL bound Y RNAs that did not fit this consensus in more detail. 91 of these Y RNAs (77%) contained either a 5mer version of the motif or the motif with an A or C instead of a G, and we found U/G rich stretches in the remaining 27 Y RNAs (Supplementary file 3F). In addition, some Y RNAs with a strong binding motif did not show any evidence of nELAVL binding. In general, these Y RNAs showed a lower expression compared to nELAVL bound Y RNA, which may explain the absence of detectable nELAVL binding (Figure 6—figure supplement 1).

We next explored nELAVL/Y RNA binding in AD brain. We observed a drastic increase in nELAVL/Y RNA association in AD subjects (Figure 6C), while Y RNA levels remained largely unchanged (Figure 6D). This suggests that Y RNPs undergo nELAVL-dependent remodeling in AD. Interestingly, we did observe a high variability in nELAVL/Y RNA association between AD samples (Figure 6—figure supplement 2), with three of them showing a very strong nELAVL/Y RNA association. Efforts to relate this difference to the expression of stress-related genes, post-mortem interval, age, extent of disease and cause of death were not conclusive, and the cause for the variation in nELAVL binding to Y RNAs among AD subjects remains elusive.

Y RNPs are remodeled during UV stress

The observation of increased nELAVL/Y RNA association in AD raised the possibility that Y RNP remodeling is associated with neuronal stress. Y RNP remodeling has previously been linked to UV-induced stress (Sim et al., 2009), and both bacterial (Chen et al., 2000; Wurtmann and Wolin, 2010) and mouse cells (Chen et al., 2003) show an increased sensitivity to UV stress in the absence of RO60. ELAVL binding can be modulated in response to stress in cultured cells (Bhattacharyya et al., 2006), and ELAVL proteins, which shuttle between nucleus and cytoplasm in response to environmental cues, preferentially accumulate in cytoplasmic stress granules upon stress (Gallouzi et al., 2000; Fan and Steitz, 1998b). We therefore examined the effect of acute UV stress on Y RNP remodeling in IMR-32 cells. IMR-32 cells were exposed to a low dose of UV stress (not sufficient to induce RNA:protein crosslinking) and allowed to recover for 24 h before being analyzed by nELAVL CLIP. We found that nELAVL bound 132 Y RNAs in neuroblastoma cells (Supplementary file 3F), that Y RNAs showed an enrichment of the nELAVL binding motif (Figure 7A) or at least contained a degenerate version of it (Supplementary file 3F), and that non-bound Y RNAs with a motif show a very low expression (Figure 7—figure supplement 1). Moreover, nELAVL binding on Y RNAs was dynamic and increased in UV stressed cells compared to non-stressed cells (Figure 7B and Figure 7—figure supplement 2), while their abundance did not change upon UV irradiation (Figure 7C). To assess whether Y RNA levels were affected by nELAVL, we depleted nELAVL by RNAi three days prior to the UV exposure, and analyzed Y RNA levels by RNAseq. Y RNA abundance was not affected by nELAVL depletion in UV stressed IMR-32 cells (Figures 7D). These results indicate that increased nELAVL binding to Y RNAs is not a function of Y RNA levels, and that nELAVL binding during stress is not required for Y RNA stability.

 

Figure 7.

Figure 7.Y RNPs are remodeled during UV stress.

(A) The nELAVL binding motif (UUUUUU, allowing a G at any position) is enriched in nELAVL-bound Y RNAs compared to non-bound Y RNAs (p = 6.2e-6; Fisher’s exact test). Y RNAs were scanned for (T)6, allowing a G at any position. nELAVL-bound Y RNAs: nELAVL CLIP tags in at least two samples; n = 132. (B) nELAVL binding of Y RNAs increases during UV stress compared to non-stressed cells (p = 8.23e-29; paired one-sided Wilcoxon rank sum test). The axes depict nELAVL Y RNA binding (nELAVL CLIP tags per Y RNA) in control and UV stressed cells. Y RNAs with nELAVL binding motif are colored in green. (C) Y RNA levels do not change upon UV stress. Y RNA abundance (RNAseq tags per Y RNA) in UV stressed cells was plotted against Y RNA abundance in non-stressed control cells. (D) nELAVL is binding is not required for Y RNA stability. Comparison of Y RNA abundance between mock andnELAVL RNAi treated UV stressed cells.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.10421.021

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Figure 8.nELAVL/Y RNA correlates with loss of nELAVL-mediated splicing.

(A) Samples with high nELAVL/Y RNA association show decreased nELAVL binding on mRNA targets. Columns represent significantly changing nELAVL binding sites. Shown are changes in AD subjects with and without Y RNA association (AD_Y and AD_nY) and changes upon UV treatment. The number of nELAVL binding sites (n) within each category is indicated. (B) Identification of nELAVL-dependent UV-induced splicing changes. Comparison of the differential inclusion rate of expressed cassette exons upon UV stress between mock and nELAVL RNAi treated IMR-32 cells (n = 9397). Significant UV-induced splicing changes that do not change upon UV stress in nELAVL RNA treated cells are boxed in dark blue (FDR<0.05 and ΔI>0.1; n = 260). (C) Many exons that are alternatively spliced upon nELAVL RNAi treatment also change during UV stress in an nELAVL-dependent manner. Shown is the inclusion rate of expressed cassette exons in IMR-32 cells that were subjected to mock or nELAVL RNAi (n = 9397). nELAVL RNAi induced splicing changes are colored in light blue (n = 553), and are additionally boxed in dark blue if they are UV-induced in an nELAVL-dependent manner (n = 68). The plot is related to Figure 4A but contains additional cassette exons expressed in UV stressed cells. (D) nELAVL binding adjacent to exons that are alternatively spliced upon nELAVL RNAi and UV treatment decreases only in AD subjects with an increased Y RNA association. Displayed is the change in nELAVL peak binding. nELAVL peak binding changes were not significant except for CBFA2T2(boxed in pink). * FDR<0.05 (derived from edgeR). (E) UCSC Genome Browser images depicting an overview and an enlarged view of a cassette exon within the CBFA2T2 gene that is alternatively spliced in nELAVL RNAi and UV-treated IMR-32 cells. The nELAVL binding track in human brain and RNAseq tracks in mock and nELAVL RNAi treated non-stressed and UV-stressed IMR-32 cells are shown.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.10421.026

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Figure 9.Y RNA overexpression is linked to nELAVL sequestration from mRNA targets.

(A) Validation of Y RNA overexpression. Shown are RNA expression fold changes of Y3wt or Y3mut infected IMR-32 cells compared to non-infected IMR-32 cells assessed by qPCR. Y RNAs expression increased while control mRNAs (ACTB, GAPDH, ELAVL4) were not affected. Error bars represent SEM. p values were calculated with a two-tailed t-test (ns: not significant; * p<0.05). (B) The expression of endogenous Y3-like Y RNAs increases upon Y3wt but not Y3mut infection. Box plots represent the distribution of endogenous Y3-like and non-Y3-like Y RNA expression fold changes upon Y3wt or Y3mut infection. Y3-like Y RNAs show a slight increase in abundance upon Y3wt compared to non-Y3-like Y RNAs (p = 0.057; one-tailed t-test). In contrast, the mRNA abundance of Y3-like Y RNAs does not change upon Y3mut infection, when compared to non-Y3 like Y RNAs (p = 0.602; one-tailed t-test). (C) Identification of Y3 dependent splicing changes. Shown is the exon inclusion fraction of cassette exons that are expressed in IMR-32 cells subjected to Y3wt or Y3mut infection (n = 10,189). Exons changing significantly between Y3wt and Y3mut infection (FDR<0.05 and ΔI>0.1) are colored in light blue (n = 191). (D) Exons that are alternatively spliced upon Y3wt infection are enriched for nELAVL bound exons. Bar graph representing total expressed exons (n = 10,189), exons that change in either Y3wt (n = 240; blue points in the left panel of Figure 9—figure supplement 4) or Y3mut (n = 151; blue points in the right panel of Figure 9—figure supplement 4) infected cells compared to non-infected cells, and exons that change in Y3wt compared to Y3mut infected cells (n = 191; blue points in Figure 9C). Exons that are alternatively spliced upon Y3wt infection compared to either non-infected (p = 0.037; hypergeometric test) or Y3mut infected cells (p = 0.069; hypergeometric test) are enriched for nELAVL bound exons.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.10421.029

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In contrast to the mRNA abundance changes, only few splicing changes overlapped between Y3wt and Y3mut infection when compared to non-infected cells (17% of Y3wt induced changes overlapped with Y3mut induced changes). Most of the observed splicing changes are therefore likely to be specific to Y RNA overexpression. Importantly, we observed an enrichment of nELAVL bound exons and of nELAVL RNAi dependent exons among the exons that changed upon Y3wt but not Y3mut overexpression (Figure 9C/D and Figure 9—figure supplement 4, 5). The relatively small enrichment is consistent with the modest increase in total Y3-like Y RNAs. These results suggest that Y RNA overexpression results in nELAVL sequestration from some of its intronic targets and consequent splicing changes, and partially recapitulates the stress induced nELAVL sequestration due to increased nELAVL/Y RNA association seen in AD patients and UV treated IMR-32 cells.

Discussion

nELAVL proteins are abundant neuron-specific RNA binding proteins which have been suggested to regulate various neurological processes and have been linked to neurodegenerative disorders including AD and PD. Yet the RNA targets of nELAVL in human brain were completely unknown. Here, we generated a comprehensive genome-wide RNA binding map of nELAVL in human brain, identifying 75,592 significant binding events within 8681 transcripts. We observed a significant overlap between these binding sites and disease-associated 3’UTR SNPs, and the potential disruption of nELAVL-mediated RNA regulation at these sites might contribute to disease manifestation. Most deleterious variants to date have been identified by exome sequencing while as many as 50% of disease-causing mutations are thought to affect splicing (Ward and Cooper, 2009). With whole genome sequencing being increasingly available, non-coding variants are also increasingly detected, some of which may be linked to disease. As the majority of nELAVL binding occurs in introns and 3’UTRs, we expect that many binding sites will overlap with prospective disease-associated non-coding variants. The overlap between deleterious variants and nELAVL binding sites, and the observation that nELAVL binding at individual sites diverged between mice and human, underscores the importance of this study and illustrates the caveat of relying solely on mouse models when studying human disease. Considering the widespread nature of nELAVL binding in human brain and that RNA dysregulation has been linked to numerous neurological disorders, we believe that this binding map will be a valuable resource for the scientific community.

To analyze the functional consequences of nELAVL binding, we used two different loss-of-function models: Elavl3/4 KO mice and nELAVL RNAi depletion in neuroblastoma cells. Due to the incomplete RNAi depletion of nELAVL in neuroblastoma cells, and potential differences in mRNA abundance and therefore nELAVL binding between the different samples, it is likely that we validated only a fraction of nELAVL-regulated transcripts. Despite these technical limitations we demonstrated that nELAVL impacts mRNA abundance and/or splicing of hundreds of targets. Among the nELAVL regulated transcripts were many transcripts implicated in human disease, including AD, which led us to investigate RNA regulation in AD subjects. Due to the relatively small sample size and the heterogeneity between these samples, likely due to both differences between individuals and sample preservation during postmortem collection, we did not detect many reproducible changes in mRNA abundance or nELAVL binding between AD and non-AD subjects. However, we found that 150 transcripts were differentially spliced in AD subjects, which in some cases coincided with differential nELAVL binding. Unexpectedly, the most significant binding change in AD was a dramatic increase in nELAVL binding to a class of non-coding RNAs, termed Y RNAs. This change was evident on a specific subset of Y RNAs harboring the nELAVL binding site. nELAVL/Y RNA binding also increased during UV stress in human neuroblastoma cells, while the abundance of Y RNAs remained constant in AD subjects and upon UV exposure. The increased nELAVL/Y RNA association correlated with decreased nELAVL binding at a subset of intronic binding sites, and was associated with similar splicing changes as induced by nELAVL depletion, suggesting that nELAVL/Y RNP remodeling during acute and chronic stress sequesters nELAVL from its mRNA targets. We provided further evidence for a Y RNA dependent nELAVL sequestration by overexpressing Y3 RNAs harboring either a wild type or mutated nELAVL binding site. Exons that were differentially spliced upon Y RNA overexpression were enriched for nELAVL bound exons, indicating nELAVL sequestration, which was dependent on an intact nELAVL binding site in the Y RNA.

nELAVL 3’UTR binding has been implicated in increasing mRNA abundance in vivo (Ince-Dunn et al., 2012). We described numerous nELAVL 3’UTR targets in brain, and were able to validate many of these targets, including disease-associated transcripts, indicating that nELAVL 3’UTR binding is important for the regulation of mRNA abundance in human brain. While ELAVL binding is frequently reported to result in an increase in mRNA abundance, we found several cases where nELAVL binding seemed to have an opposing effect. ELAVL proteins can compete or collaborate with miRNAs as well as RBPs like AUF1, CUGBP1 and TIA1 to regulate its targets (Bhattacharyya et al., 2006;Kawai et al., 2006; Lal et al., 2004; Young et al., 2009; Yu et al., 2013; Kim et al., 2009). The ultimate outcome of nELAVL 3’UTR binding might therefore vary between individual transcripts.

nELAVL has also been shown to regulate splicing in mouse brain by binding to intronic sequences (Ince-Dunn et al., 2012). We observed many instances of intronic nELAVL binding events adjacent to alternative exons in brain, and confirmed that nELAVL regulates many of these exons in mice and neuroblastoma cells. In contrast to the position-dependent splicing observed for other RBPs (Licatalosi and Darnell, 2010), we observed that upstream nELAVL binding was associated with both exon skipping and inclusion. While nELAVL binding was observed within 25-50 nucleotides upstream of skipped exons, coinciding with the branch point sequence, nELAVL binding peaked within the proximal 25 nucleotides upstream of included exons, overlapping the polypyrimidine tract. Binding of auxiliary splicing factors, including nELAVL, to the branch point sequence usually interferes with spliceosome assembly and thus leads to exon skipping (Licatalosi and Darnell, 2010). Polypyrimidine tract binding however can lead to both exon inclusion and skipping (Licatalosi et al., 2012; Wei et al., 2012), presumably depending on the recruitment of splicing enhancers or silencers. Our data indicates that upstream nELAVL binding can both interfere with the assembly of the spliceosome as well as promote splicing, most likely by recruiting splicing enhancers.

Splicing defects have been associated with many neurological diseases (Licatalosi and Darnell, 2006), and among the nELAVL-regulated transcripts we describe here are numerous transcripts related to disease, including AD. For example, intronic nELAVL binding of the gene encoding the amyloid precursor protein, APP, was associated with skipping of exons 7 and 8. Both exons have previously been shown to be alternatively spliced and encode for the Kunitz protease inhibitory (KPI) motif, a domain that has been linked to APP processing (Ben Khalifa et al., 2012). Remarkably, KPI domain containing isoforms of APP have been shown to be increased in AD (Zhang et al., 2012), indicating that APP splicing might contribute to AD pathogenesis, and that nELAVL binding in human brain might be important to regulate the inclusion of the KPI domain. nELAVL regulates the splicing of two more AD-related transcripts, PICALM and BIN1, by promoting the inclusion of alternative exons 13 and 6a, respectively. Both proteins have been implicated in APP trafficking and both exons lie within domains mediating protein-protein interactions (Tan et al., 2013; Treusch et al., 2011). Moreover, inclusion of the alternative exon 13 in PICALM has been linked to an AD-associated SNP (Parikh et al., 2014), and we observed in this study that exon 6a of BIN1 shows a higher inclusion rate in controls compared to AD subjects. Since nELAVL binding promotes the inclusion of this exon, and control subjects show higher nELAVL binding, we propose that the altered splicing of BIN1 in AD subjects might be due to differential nELAVL binding. In fact, several nELAVL-regulated exons have been shown to be differentially spliced in AD subjects, further strengthening the link between nELAVL dysregulation and AD.

While Y RNAs have not been linked to AD before, they have been implicated in various types of stress responses. The RNA binding protein RO60 usually associates with Y RNAs and is required for their stabilization (Chen et al., 2000; 2003; Labbé et al., 1999; Wolin et al., 2013; Xue et al., 2003). Besides RO60, Y RNPs contain several other RBPs such as ZBP1, MOV10, and Y-box proteins, and have been found to be remodeled upon stress (Sim et al., 2012). Our data suggests that nELAVL becomes increasingly associated with specific Y RNAs during both UV-induced stress and AD. ELAVL proteins can shuttle between nucleus and cytoplasm in response to environmental cues and preferentially accumulate in cytoplasmic stress granules upon cellular stress (Fan and Steitz, 1998a;Gallouzi et al., 2000), and ELAVL binding to the CAT-1 transcript is modulated in response to stress in cultured cells (Bhattacharyya et al., 2006). Interestingly, while we found that nELAVL specifically associates with Y RNAs during AD and acute UV stress, the nucleocytoplasmic distribution of nELAVL, RO60, and Y RNAs was not affected by UV stress. Because Y RNA levels remained constant, we propose that Y RNP complexes are specifically remodeled during AD and acute stress, which is not likely due to a change in nucleocytoplasmic protein/RNA distribution. These results are consistent with previous observations that stress induced shuttling might be limited to ELAVL1 (Burry and Smith, 2006). Our observation of Y RNP remodeling in two very different systems of neuronal stress suggests that differential nELAVL/Y RNA association may be a widespread phenomenon and a focus of future studies.

In addition to the four canonical human Y RNAs, hY1/3/4/5, hundreds of additional Y RNA genes are distributed throughout the human genome (Perreault et al., 2005). The apparent lack of promoters upstream led to a premature designation of these Y RNAs as pseudogenes. Surprisingly, we found that hundreds of these Y RNA copies are expressed in human brain and neuroblastoma cells, although it remains unclear if these Y RNAs can still associate with RO60, because the RO60 binding site in many Y RNA copies is mutated (Perreault et al., 2005). We observed that numerous Y RNA copies were more strongly associated with nELAVL in AD brain and acutely stressed cells, yet nELAVL binding did not affect their levels, indicating a function for this interaction other than Y RNA stabilization. While the outcome of nELAVL/Y RNA remains to be elucidated, our work revealed an aspect of nELAVL/Y RNA association related to stoichiometry. Hundreds of Y RNAs are bound by nELAVL in AD and UV-stress, which corresponds to up to 5% of all nELAVL CLIP tags. This shift of nELAVL binding may distort the normal stoichiometry of nELAVL interactions with its mRNA targets. Indeed, non-coding RNAs have previously been shown to affect RBP-RNA stoichiometry and therefore the biological function of other RNAs or RBPs (Borah et al., 2011; Cazalla et al., 2010;Hansen et al., 2013). Our data indicate that the binding of nELAVL to Y RNAs during stress may lead to a redistribution of nELAVL binding and/or competition of nELAVL from other RNAs. Consistently, we found that high nELAVL/Y RNA association was associated with a general decrease in nELAVL binding at a subset of binding sites, especially within introns, and consequential splicing changes were reminiscent of splicing changes provoked by nELAVL depletion. Consistently, splicing changes induced by Y RNA overexpression showed an enrichment of nELAVL binding that was dependent on the presence of the ELAVL binding motif in Y RNAs. Hence we propose that the increased association of nELAVL and Y RNAs during stress causes sequestration of nELAVL from its mRNA targets.

Taken together, our data indicate that nELAVL becomes strongly associated with Y RNAs in some AD subjects as well as in cells subjected to UV stress, and this is linked to a sequestration of nELAVL from some of its intronic targets, partially recapitulating splicing changes induced by nELAVL depletion. Our results are consistent with a hypothesis that a relatively subtle and perhaps long-term effect of Y RNA binding on normal nELAVL stoichiometry may underlie subtle and long-term changes in nELAVL biology. Perhaps analogously, the sequestration of the RBP, TDP-43, has previously been linked to neurodegenerative disorders (Lee et al., 2012). While the underlying mechanisms of TDP-43 and nELAVL sequestration are distinct, relatively subtle and long-term rearrangement of RNA:protein stoichiometry and interactions might be a recurrent theme of neurodegeneration.

 

 

 

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