hnRNP C Tetramer Measures RNA Length to Classify RNA Polymerase II Transcripts for Export

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Specific RNA recognition is usually achieved by specific RNA sequences and/or structures. However, we show here a mechanism by which RNA polymerase II (Pol II) transcripts are classified according to their length. The heterotetramer of the heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein (hnRNP) C1/C2 measures the length of the transcripts like a molecular ruler, by selectively binding to the unstructured RNA regions longer than 200 to 300 nucleotides. Thus, the tetramer sorts the transcripts into two RNA categories, to be exported as either messenger RNA or uridine-rich small nuclear RNA (U snRNA), depending on whether or not they are longer than the threshold, respectively. Our findings reveal a new function of the C tetramer and highlight the biological importance of RNA recognition by the length.

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