Abstract | Splicing repression allows the gradual emergence of new Alu-exons in primate evolution

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Splicing repression allows the gradual emergence of new Alu-exons in primate evolution

Abstract

Affiliation details

UCL Institute of Neurology, United Kingdom; MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology, United Kingdom; Institute de Biologie de l’ENS (IBENS), CNRS UMR 8197, France; University College London Genetics Institute, United Kingdom; Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany; Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB), Germany

Alu elements are retrotransposons that frequently form new exons during primate evolution. Here, we assess the interplay of splicing repression by hnRNPC and nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) in the quality control and evolution of new Alu-exons. We identify 3100 new Alu-exons and show that NMD more efficiently recognises transcripts with Alu-exons compared to other exons with premature termination codons. However, some Alu-exons escape NMD, especially when an adjacent intron is retained, highlighting the importance of concerted repression by splicing and NMD. We show that evolutionary progression of 3' splice sites is coupled with longer repressive uridine tracts. Once the 3' splice site at ancient Alu-exons reaches a stable phase, splicing repression by hnRNPC decreases, but the exons generally remain sensitive to NMD. We conclude that repressive motifs are strongest next to cryptic exons and that gradual weakening of these motifs contributes to the evolutionary emergence of new alternative exons.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.19545.001