Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Molecular Genetics and Microbiology


Microbiology and Physiological Systems

First Thesis Advisor

Dr. Allan Jacobson


Saccharomyces cerevisiae, RNA, Messenger, Protein Biosynthesis


Nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) is an important mRNA surveillance mechanism conserved in eukaryotes. This thesis explores several interesting aspects of the NMD pathway. One important aspect of NMD which is presently the subject of intense controversy is the subcellular localization of NMD. In one set of experiments, the decay kinetics of the ade2-1 and pgk1 nonsense mRNAs (substrates for NMD) were investigated in response to activating the NMD pathway to determine if cytoplasmic nonsense mRNAs are immune to NMD in the yeast system. The results of these studies demonstrated that activation of NMD caused rapid and immediate degradation of both the ade2-1 and the early nonsense pgk1 steady state mRNA populations. The half lives of the steady state mRNA populations for both ade2-1 and pgk1 (early nonsense) were shortened from >30 minutes to approximately 7 minutes. This was not observed for pgk1mRNAs that contained a late nonsense codon demonstrating that activation of NMD specifically targeted the proper substrates in these experiments. Therefore, in yeast, nonsense mRNAs residing in the cytoplasm are susceptible to NMD. While these findings are consistent with NMD occurring in the cytoplasm, they do not completely rule out the possibility of a nuclear-associated decay mechanism.

To investigate the involvement of the nucleus in NMD, the putative nuclear targeting sequence identified in Nmd2p (one of the trans-acting factors essential for NMD) was characterized. Subcellular fractionation experiments demonstrated that the majority of Nmd2p localized to the cytoplasm with a small proportion detected in the nucleus. Specific mutations in the putative nuclear localization signal (NLS) of Nmd2p were found to have adverse effects on the protein's decay function. These effects on decay function, however, could not be attributed to a failure in nuclear localization. Therefore, the residues that comprise the putative NLS of Nmd2p are important for decay function but do not appear to be required for targeting the protein to the nucleus. These results are in accordance with the findings above which implicate the cytoplasm as an important cellular compartment for NMD.

This thesis then investigates the regulatory roles of the trans-acting factors involved in NMD (Upf1p, Nmd2p, and Upf3p) using a novel quantitative assay for translational suppression, based on a nonsense allele of the CAN1 gene (can1-100). Deletion of UPF1, NMD2, or UPF3 stabilized the can1-100 transcript and promoted can1-100 nonsense suppression. Changes in mRNA levels were not the basis of suppression, however, since deletion of DCP1 or XRN1 or high-copy can1-100 expression in wild-type cells caused mRNA stabilization similar to that obtained in upf/nmd cells but did not result in comparable suppression. can1-100 suppression was highest in cells harboring a deletion of UPF1, and overexpression of UPF1 in cells with individual or multiple upf/nmd mutations lowered the level of nonsense suppression without affecting the abundance of the can1-100 mRNA. These findings indicate that Nmd2p and Upf3p regulate Upf1p activity and that Upf1p plays a critical role in promoting termination fidelity that is independent of its role in regulating mRNA decay.


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