Structural determinants of human ζ-globin mRNA stability.
The normal accumulation of adult α and β globins in definitive erythrocytes is critically dependent upon processes that ensure that the cognate mRNAs are maintained at high levels in transcriptionally silent, but translationally active progenitor cells. The impact of these post-transcriptional regulatory events on the expression of embryonic ζ globin is not known, as its encoding mRNA is not normally transcribed during adult erythropoiesis. Recently, though, ζ globin has been recognized as a potential therapeutic for α thalassemia and sickle-cell disease, raising practical questions about constitutive post-transcriptional processes that may enhance, or possibly prohibit, the expression of exogenous or derepresssed endogenous ζ-globin genes in definitive erythroid progenitors.The present study assesses mRNA half-life in intact cells using a pulse-chase approach; identifies cis-acting determinants of ζ-globin mRNA stability using a saturation mutagenesis strategy; establishes critical 3'UTR secondary structures using an in vitro enzymatic mapping method; and identifies trans-acting effector factors using an affinity chromatographical procedure.We specify a tetranucleotide 3'UTR motif that is required for the high-level accumulation of ζ-globin transcripts in cultured cells, and formally demonstrate that it prolongs their cytoplasmic half-lives. Surprisingly, the ζ-globin mRNA stability motif does not function autonomously, predicting an activity that is subject to structural constraints that we subsequently specify. Additional studies demonstrate that the ζ-globin mRNA stability motif is targeted by AUF1, a ubiquitous RNA-binding protein that enhances the half-life of adult β-globin mRNA, suggesting commonalities in post-transcriptional processes that regulate globin transcripts at all stages of mammalian development.These data demonstrate a mechanism for ζ-globin mRNA stability that exists in definitive erythropoiesis and is available for therapeutic manipulation in α thalassemia and sickle-cell disease.