Non-canonical miRNA biogenesis mechanisms in Drosophila and mammals microRNAs (miRNAs) are an abundant class of small regulatory RNAs that derive from consecutive cleavages of hairpin transcripts by the Drosha and Dicer RNase III enzymes. The resultant mature miRNAs mediate extensive networks of post- transcriptional regulation, and are implicated in a variety of diseases including cancer. In the course of analyzing the miRNA pathway in Drosophila, we uncovered a new class of miRNA derived from short hairpin introns that we term mirtrons. These atypical substrates bypass Drosha to generate functional miRNAs, and we later showed that splicing-derived miRNAs also exist in mammals. Certain individual miRNAs, including most famously the let-7 tumor suppressor miRNA, are regulated by terminal uridylation. We found that mirtrons as an entire class are subject to specific and abundant uridylation-mediated repression at the hairpin stage. In particular, we (1) recently elucidated and dissected the Drosophila mirtron terminal uridyltransferase (TUTase) system, (2) discovered an immense proliferation in the numbers and biogenesis strategies for mirtrons in mammals, (3) find mirtron uridylation to be broadly conserved in mammals. We now propose to elucidate the molecular features, functional impacts and evolutionary bearing of TUTase systems that target splicing-mediated miRNA pathways in mammals. Beyond this, we provide compelling evidence for additional requirements for Drosophila TUTases and their protein partners that extend the reach of these RNA modification systems into new regulatory pathways. These preliminary data are the basis of an integrated set of biochemical, molecular, genetic and genomewide studies to reveal novel TUTase mechanisms and biological functions. Our efforts to understand these questions will eventually further our knowledge of how to control the activity of small regulatory RNAs in humans.

Public Health Relevance

microRNAs are an extensive class of ~22 nucleotide RNAs that control the activity of messenger RNAs, the templates for protein synthesis. microRNAs mediate broad networks of gene regulation, and their dysfunction is linked to disease and cancer. Reciprocally, there is great potential for controlling and exploiting microRNAs and related regulatory RNAs as research tools and therapeutic strategies. These considerations emphasize the importance of continued basic research into the mechanisms and functions of small RNA pathways. This proposal extends our long-standing commitment to understanding microRNA mechanisms by exploring new enzymes that influence their activity. In particular, we defined a novel pathway for substrate-selective terminal uridylation of splicing-derived microRNAs, and are dissecting its mechanistic basis and biological requirement. We were led to this problem from studies in insects but the process is conserved in humans. Thus, we will exploit both systems in our studies and are especially committed to elucidate the mechanism and biology of splicing-mediated biogenesis and uridylation in mammalian cells. Overall, we will conduct biochemically- oriented mechanistic studies of this process, genetic studies to study its impact within the intact animal, and genomewide studies to assess the breadth of uridylation substrates. The results from these studies will improve our understanding of how microRNA function is controlled. In addition, our studies will lead to new insights into the generation and restriction of novel non-coding RNA species produced from splicing.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
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Molecular Genetics B Study Section (MGB)
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Bender, Michael T
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Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research
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