Modifications in small nuclear RNAs and their roles in spliceosome assembly and function

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Modifications in cellular RNAs have emerged as key regulators of all aspects of gene expression, including pre-mRNA splicing. During spliceosome assembly and function, the small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs) form numerous dynamic RNA-RNA and RNA-protein interactions, which are required for spliceosome assembly, correct positioning of the spliceosome on substrate pre-mRNAs and catalysis. The human snRNAs contain several base methylations as well as a myriad of pseudouridines and 2′-O-methylated nucleotides, which are largely introduced by small Cajal body-specific ribonucleoproteins (scaRNPs). Modified nucleotides typically cluster in functionally important regions of the snRNAs, suggesting that their presence could optimise the interactions of snRNAs with each other or with pre-mRNAs, or may affect the binding of spliceosomal proteins. snRNA modifications appear to play important roles in snRNP biogenesis and spliceosome assembly, and have also been proposed to influence the efficiency and fidelity of pre-mRNA splicing. Interestingly, alterations in the modification status of snRNAs have recently been observed in different cellular conditions, implying that some snRNA modifications are dynamic and raising the possibility that these modifications may fine-tune the spliceosome for particular functions. Here, we review the current knowledge on the snRNA modification machinery and discuss the timing, functions and dynamics of modifications in snRNAs.

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