Topoisomerases are magicians of the DNA world, working their wizardry to solve topological problems of DNA during replication, repair, and transcription. Many DNA metabolizing enzymes (polymerases, helicases, nucleases, and ligases) have counterparts in the RNA world. One exception is topoisomerase, which seems to be absent from the RNA world. During our research on DNA topoisomerases that participate in DNA repair, we discovered that topoisomerase 3beta (Top3b) has many features of an RNA topoisomerase. First, Top3b associates with the Fragile X syndrome protein, FMRP, which is known to bind mRNA and to regulate mRNA translation and transport. Second, Top3b resembles FMRP in associating with polyribosomes, which are units for mRNA translation. Third, Top3b colocalizes with FMRP in RNA stress granules, which are cytoplasmic compartments for stalled mRNA and translation machinery. Fourth, Top3b binds mRNA in cells as shown by a crosslinked-RNA immunoprecipitation assay (HITS-CLIP). Fourth, Top3b mutants in Drosophila display abnormal neuromuscular junctions similar to those in FMR1 mutants. Fifth, Top3b mutations in Drosophila modify the rough eye phenotype induced by FMRP over-expression. Sixth and most importantly, Top3b can directly catalyze topoisomerase reactions on RNA substrates. In addition, a point mutation that inactivates its DNA topoisomerase activity also disrupts its RNA topoisomerase activity, indicating that the same catalytic residue may be used for reactions on both DNA and RNA substrates. Furthermore, the paralog of Top3b, Top3a, completely lacks RNA topoisomerase activity, suggesting that the observed RNA topoisomerase activity is specific for Top3b. During the past year, we were able to create Drosophila Top3b/Fmr1 double mutant. Interestingly, the abnormal neuromuscular junction phenotype observed in each single mutant is suppressed in the double mutant. This further illustrates that the two proteins genetically interact in antagonistic manner. Moreover, the data suggest that the inhibitors of the RNA topoisomerase may be used as drugs to alleviate conditions of the Fragile X patients. Recent human studies have linked Top3b mutation with schizophrenia, intellectual disability and autism. Consistent with these findings, we found that Top3b bound multiple mRNAs that are encoded by schizophrenia and autism-related genes. We further showed that one schizophrenia-related gene, ptk2/FAK, displayed reduced expression in neuromuscular junctions of the Drosophila Top3b mutant, Fmr1 mutant, and their double mutant, suggesting that Top3b and Fmr1 work in the same pathway to promote ptk2 expression in synapse. We also observed abnormal synapse formation in both Drosophila and mouse that are inactivated of Top3b. In summary, we have identified Top3b as the first RNA topoisomerase in eukaryotes and showed that it works with FMRP to promote neurodevelopment and mental health. A manuscript describing this work has been published in Nature Neuroscience, and is featured by highlights in Nature, Nature Neuroscience, Nature Review Neurology, and other journals and organizations. We are now using a combination of biochemical and genetic approaches to elucidate how Top3b and FMRP work together to regulate gene expression. The goal is to identify the specific target mRNAs that are important to longevity and mental health.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Investigator-Initiated Intramural Research Projects (ZIA)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
National Institute on Aging
Zip Code
Ahmad, Muzammil; Xu, Dongyi; Wang, Weidong (2018) An Assay for Detecting RNA Topoisomerase Activity. Methods Mol Biol 1703:161-172
Ahmad, Muzammil; Xu, Dongyi; Wang, Weidong (2017) Type IA topoisomerases can be ""magicians"" for both DNA and RNA in all domains of life. RNA Biol 14:854-864
Ahmad, Muzammil; Shen, Weiping; Li, Wen et al. (2017) Topoisomerase 3? is the major topoisomerase for mRNAs and linked to neurodevelopment and mental dysfunction. Nucleic Acids Res 45:2704-2713
Ranjan, Nihar; Story, Sandra; Fulcrand, Geraldine et al. (2017) Selective Inhibition of Escherichia coli RNA and DNA Topoisomerase I by Hoechst 33258 Derived Mono- and Bisbenzimidazoles. J Med Chem 60:4904-4922
Ahmad, Muzammil; Xue, Yutong; Lee, Seung Kyu et al. (2016) RNA topoisomerase is prevalent in all domains of life and associates with polyribosomes in animals. Nucleic Acids Res 44:6335-49
Xu, Dongyi; Shen, Weiping; Guo, Rong et al. (2013) Top3? is an RNA topoisomerase that works with fragile X syndrome protein to promote synapse formation. Nat Neurosci 16:1238-47