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PQN-59 antagonizes microRNA-mediated repression and functions in stress granule formation during C. elegans development

By Christopher Martin Hammell, Colleen Carlston, Robin Weinmann, Natalia Stec, Simona Abbatemarco, Francoise Schwager, Jing Wang, Huiwu Ouyang, Monica Gotta

Posted 14 May 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.05.14.444139

microRNAs (miRNAs) are potent regulators of gene expression that function in a variety of developmental and physiological processes by dampening the expression of their target genes at a post-transcriptional level. In many gene regulatory networks (GRNs), miRNAs function in a switch-like manner whereby their expression and activity elicit a transition from one stable pattern of gene expression to a distinct, equally stable pattern required to define a nascent cell fate. While the importance of miRNAs that function in this capacity are clear, we have less of an understanding of the cellular factors and mechanisms that ensure the robustness of this form of regulatory bistability. In a screen to identify suppressors of temporal patterning phenotypes that result from ineffective miRNA-mediated target repression during C. elegans development, we identified pqn-59, an ortholog of human UBAP2L, as a novel factor that antagonizes the activities of multiple heterochronic miRNAs. Specifically, we find that depletion of pqn-59 can restore normal development in animals with reduced miRNA activity. Importantly, inactivation of pqn-59 is not sufficient to bypass the requirement of these regulatory RNAs within the heterochronic GRN. The pqn-59 gene encodes an abundant, cytoplasmically localized and unstructured protein that harbors three essential "prion-like" domains. These domains exhibit LLPS properties in vitro and normally function to limit PQN-59 diffusion in the cytoplasm in vivo . Like human UBAP2L, PQN-59s localization becomes highly dynamic during stress conditions where it re-distributes to cytoplasmic stress granules and is important for their formation. Proteomic analysis of PQN-59 complexes from embryonic extracts indicates that PQN-59 and human UBAP2L interact with orthologous cellular components involved in RNA metabolism and promoting protein translation and that PQN-59 additionally interacts with proteins involved in transcription and intracellular transport. Finally, we demonstrate that pqn-59 depletion results in the stabilization of several mature miRNAs (including those involved in temporal patterning) without altering steady-state pre-miRNAs levels indicating that PQN-59 may ensure the bistability of some GRNs that require miRNA functions by promoting miRNA turnover and, like UBAP2L, enhancing protein translation.

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