Oeffinger Lab


High-throughput RNA structure probing reveals critical folding events during early 60S ribosome assembly in yeast

While the protein composition of various yeast 60S ribosomal subunit assembly intermediates has been studied in detail, little is known about ribosomal RNA (rRNA) structural rearrangements that take place during early 60S assembly steps. Using a high- throughput RNA structure probing method, we provide nucleotide resolution insights into rRNA structural rearrangements during nucleolar 60S assembly. Our results suggest that many rRNA-folding steps, such as folding of 5.8S rRNA, occur at a very specific stage of assembly, and propose that downstream nuclear assembly events can only continue once 5.8S folding has been completed. Our maps of nucleotide flexibility enable making predictions about the establishment of protein–rRNA interactions, providing intriguing insights into the temporal order of protein–rRNA as well as long-range inter-domain rRNA interactions. These data argue that many distant domains in the rRNA can assemble simultaneously during early 60S assembly and underscore the enormous complexity of 60S synthesis.

The RNA chaperone La promotes pre-tRNA maturation via indiscriminate binding of both native and misfolded targets

Non-coding RNAs have critical roles in biological processes, and RNA chaperones can promote their folding into the native shape required for their function. La proteins are a class of highly abundant RNA chaperones that contact pre-tRNAs and other RNA polymerase III transcripts via their common UUU-3′OH ends, as well as through less specific contacts associated with RNA chaperone activity. However, whether La proteins preferentially bind misfolded pre-tRNAs or instead engage all pre-tRNA substrates irrespective of their folding status is not known. La deletion in yeast is synthetically lethal when combined with the loss of tRNA modifications predicted to contribute to the native pre-tRNA fold, such as the N2, N2-dimethylation of G26 by the methyltransferase Trm1p. In this work, we identify G26 containing pre-tRNAs that misfold in the absence of Trm1p and/or La (Sla1p) in Schizosaccharomyces pombe cells, then test whether La preferentially associates with such tRNAs in vitro and in vivo. Our data suggest that La does not discriminate a native from misfolded RNA target, and highlights the potential challenges faced by RNA chaperones in preferentially binding defective substrates.

Carolina wins prize at 50th-year celebration of Université de Montréal50-ieme-230.jpg

DDX54 regulates transcriptome dynamics during DNA damage response.

The cellular response to genotoxic stress is mediated by a well-characterized network of DNA surveillance pathways. The contribution of post-transcriptional gene regulatory networks to the DNA damage response (DDR) has not been extensively studied. Here, we systematically identified RNA-binding proteins differentially interacting with polyadenylated transcripts upon exposure of human breast carcinoma cells to ionizing radiation (IR). Interestingly, more than 260 proteins, including many nucleolar proteins, showed increased binding to poly(A)+ RNA in IR-exposed cells. The functional analysis of DDX54, a candidate genotoxic stress responsive RNA helicase, revealed that this protein is an immediate-to-early DDR regulator required for the splicing efficacy of its target IR-induced pre-mRNAs. Upon IR exposure, DDX54 acts by increased interaction with a well-defined class of pre-mRNAs that harbor introns with weak acceptor splice sites, as well as by protein–protein contacts within components of U2 snRNP and spliceosomal B complex, resulting in lower intron retention and higher processing rates of its target transcripts. Because DDX54 promotes survival after exposure to IR, its expression and/or mutation rate may impact DDR-related pathologies. Our work indicates the relevance of many uncharacterized RBPs potentially involved in the DDR.


Dan wins prizeDan Scott wins 2nd price in Prix McGill Poster Awards at the IRCM Research Day! Contratulations!




CIHR grant awarded to our lab to study specialized ribosomes: “Determining the pathways, components and functional niches that define specialized ribosomes.”


The sole LSm complex in Cyanidioschyzon merolae associates with pre-mRNA splicing and mRNA degradation factors.

Proteins of the Sm and Sm-like (LSm) families, referred to collectively as (L)Sm proteins, are found in all three domains of life and are known to promote a variety of RNA processes such as base-pair formation, unwinding, RNA degradation, and RNA stabilization. In eukaryotes, (L)Sm proteins have been studied, inter alia, for their role in pre-mRNA splicing. In many organisms, the LSm proteins form two distinct complexes, one consisting of LSm1-7 that is involved in mRNA degradation in the cytoplasm, and the other consisting of LSm2-8 that binds spliceosomal U6 snRNA in the nucleus. We recently characterized the splicing proteins from the red alga Cyanidioschyzon merolae and found that it has only seven LSm proteins. The identities of CmLSm2-CmLSm7 were unambiguous, but the seventh protein was similar to LSm1 and LSm8. Here, we use in vitro binding measurements, microscopy, and affinity purification-mass spectrometry to demonstrate a canonical splicing function for the C. merolae LSm complex and experimentally validate our bioinformatic predictions of a reduced spliceosome in this organism. Copurification of Pat1 and its associated mRNA degradation proteins with the LSm proteins, along with evidence of a cytoplasmic fraction of CmLSm complexes, argues that this complex is involved in both splicing and cytoplasmic mRNA degradation. Intriguingly, the Pat1 complex also copurifies with all four snRNAs, suggesting the possibility of a spliceosome-associated pre-mRNA degradation complex in the nucleus.