Synthesis of mRNA in eukaryotes involves the coordinated action of many enzymatic processes, including initiation, elongation, splicing and cleavage. Kinetic competition between these processes has been proposed to determine RNA fate, yet such coupling has never been observed in vivo on single transcripts. Here, we use dual-color single-molecule RNA imaging in living human cells to construct a complete kinetic profile of transcription and splicing of the β-globin gene. We find that kinetic competition results in multiple competing pathways for pre-mRNA splicing. Splicing of the terminal intron occurs stochastically both before and after transcript release, indicating there is not a strict quality control checkpoint. The majority of pre-mRNAs are spliced after release, while diffusing away from the site of transcription. A single missense point mutation (S34F) in the essential splicing factor U2AF1 which occurs in human cancers perturbs this kinetic balance and defers splicing to occur entirely post-release.
- Douglas L Black, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, United States
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CRISPR technology has made generation of gene knock-outs widely achievable in cells. However, once inactivated, their re-activation remains difficult, especially in diploid cells. Here, we present DExCon (Doxycycline-mediated endogenous gene Expression Control), DExogron (DExCon combined with auxin-mediated targeted protein degradation), and LUXon (light responsive DExCon) approaches which combine one-step CRISPR-Cas9-mediated targeted knockin of fluorescent proteins with an advanced Tet-inducible TRE3GS promoter. These approaches combine blockade of active gene expression with the ability to re-activate expression on demand, including activation of silenced genes. Systematic control can be exerted using doxycycline or spatiotemporally by light, and we demonstrate functional knock-out/rescue in the closely related Rab11 family of vesicle trafficking regulators. Fluorescent protein knock-in results in bright signals compatible with low-light live microscopy from monoallelic modification, the potential to simultaneously image different alleles of the same gene, and bypasses the need to work with clones. Protein levels are easily tunable to correspond with endogenous expression through cell sorting (DExCon), timing of light illumination (LUXon), or by exposing cells to different levels of auxin (DExogron). Furthermore, our approach allowed us to quantify previously unforeseen differences in vesicle dynamics, transferrin receptor recycling, expression kinetics, and protein stability among highly similar endogenous Rab11 family members and their colocalization in triple knock-in ovarian cancer cell lines.
In mammalian cells genes that are in close proximity can be transcriptionally coupled: silencing or activating one gene can affect its neighbors. Understanding these dynamics is important for natural processes, such as heterochromatin spreading during development and aging, and when designing synthetic gene regulation circuits. Here, we systematically dissect this process in single cells by recruiting and releasing repressive chromatin regulators at dual-gene synthetic reporters, and measuring how fast gene silencing and reactivation spread as a function of intergenic distance and configuration of insulator elements. We find that silencing by KRAB, associated with histone methylation, spreads between two genes within hours, with a time delay that increases with distance. This fast KRAB-mediated spreading is not blocked by the classical cHS4 insulators. Silencing by histone deacetylase HDAC4 of the upstream gene can also facilitate background silencing of the downstream gene by PRC2, but with a days-long delay that does not change with distance. This slower silencing can sometimes be stopped by insulators. Gene reactivation of neighboring genes is also coupled, with strong promoters and insulators determining the order of reactivation. Our data can be described by a model of multi-gene regulation that builds upon previous knowledge of heterochromatin spreading, where both gene silencing and gene reactivation can act at a distance, allowing for coordinated dynamics via chromatin regulator recruitment.