The long term goal of this research is to reveal how gene expression is regulated at the post-transcriptional level. Control of messenger RNA (mRNA) translation and degradation underlies important biological processes including development, fertility and neurological functions. The proposed work focuses on the archetypal mRNA regulator, Pumilio (Pum). Pum is a member of the PUF family of eukaryotic RNA binding proteins. Pum binds an extensive group of messenger RNAs including those that encode cell cycle proteins and key developmental morphogens. Upon binding to an mRNA, Pum represses expression of the encoded protein. The proposed research seeks to discover the mechanism of Pum repression and determine how Pum activity is modulated. We developed novel assays to measure Pum activity in Drosophila cells and discovered multiple new domains that potently repress protein expression. The repressive activity of the Pum repression domains do not rely on previously identified cofactors, indicating novel repression mechanism(s). In the first aim, we measure the impact of the repression domains on translation and mRNA degradation. We seek to discover cofactors necessary for their activity. We discovered an autoregulatory switch that controls Pum activity and may be modulated by phosphorylation. In the second aim, we dissect the mechanism of this autoregulatory switch using functional and protein interaction assays. In the third aim, we explore how the Zn finger protein Nanos regulates repression by Pum. Nanos interacts with Pum and enhances repression. We propose that Nanos enhances interaction of Pum with mRNA and, in effect, changes the collection of mRNAs repressed by Pum. This research will determine novel mechanisms of Pum repression and illuminate how that activity is regulated in response to protein modifications and combinatorial action with Nanos. The resulting discoveries are expected to broadly enhance our understanding of post-transcriptional control and specifically improve knowledge of gene regulation in development, fertility, stem cell proliferation, and the nervous system.
This research is relevant to human biology and health because Pumilio and Nanos are conserved in humans where, like their Drosophila counterpart, they are implicated in control of cell proliferation, fertility and neurological functions. The RNA binding, repression and autoregulatory domains of Pumilio are homologous to human Pums;therefore, our discoveries are expected to be translatable to post-transcriptional regulation of human cancer biology, developmental defects, neurological disorders and infertility.