Splicing is a co-transcriptional process whereby a single gene can be converted into multiple unique mRNA fragments for enhanced protein diversity. While splicing is integral for normal cellular function in complex organisms, mistakes i splice-selection can be extremely deleterious. In fact, splicing errors are associated with numerous human diseases including muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer's disease, parkinsonism, metabolic disorders, ataxias and cancers. Splicing occurs at the spliceosome, a macromolecular complex that includes both RNA and proteins. In the latter group, SR proteins are essential splicing factors that control where and how the spliceosome assembles on precursor mRNA. SR proteins contain C-terminal domains rich in arginine-serine repeats whose polyphosphorylation controls splice-site selection. The SRPK family of protein kinases phosphorylates these RS domains directing SR proteins into the nucleus for splicing activity. While SRPKs are normally localized to the cytoplasm for this function, they can enter the nucleus under certain conditions further affecting SR protein phosphorylation levels and alternative gene splicing. Although phosphorylation is critical for splice-site choice, very little is known about how residue-specific phosphorylation of SR proteins controls alternative gene splicing. Clearly, knowing how the SRPKs are regulated in the cell and how they recognize and phosphorylate SR proteins is essential for an understanding of gene splicing and disease pathologies related to mis-splicing. We showed that SRPKs and phosphatases work in opposite directions concentrating phosphates toward the C-terminal end of RS domains. We will now explore how this unique phosphate distribution termed "phosphate biasing" affects SR protein function. We recently showed that the catalytic activity of SRPK1 is dependent on a nucleotide release factor composed of sequence elements from a large insert domain and an N-terminal extension. We propose that this conserved release factor is a hub for SRPK regulation in the cell. We will demonstrate how phosphorylation and protein-protein interactions modulate this factor and regulate SR protein phosphorylation levels and gene splicing.
Incorrect splicing of genetic material is responsible for many neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. To better understand the connection between human disease and gene processing, we are studying the role of SRPKs, a critical enzyme family that regulates splicing activity in the cell.
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