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Caenorhabditis elegans ETR-1/CELF has broad effects on the muscle cell transcriptome, including genes that regulate translation and neuroblast migration


Ochs MEMatthew E , McWhirter RMRebecca M , Unckless RLRobert L , Miller DMDavid M , Lundquist EAErik A . BMC genomics. 2022 01 06; 23(1). 13


Migration of neuroblasts and neurons from their birthplace is central to the formation of neural circuits and networks. ETR-1 is the Caenorhabditis elegans homolog of the CELF1 (CUGBP, ELAV-like family 1) RNA-processing factor involved in neuromuscular disorders. etr-1 regulates body wall muscle differentiation. Our previous work showed that etr-1 in muscle has a non-autonomous role in neuronal migration, suggesting that ETR-1 is involved in the production of a signal emanating from body wall muscle that controls neuroblast migration and that interacts with Wnt signaling. etr-1 is extensively alternatively-spliced, and we identified the viable etr-1(lq61) mutant, caused by a stop codon in alternatively-spliced exon 8 and only affecting etr-1 isoforms containing exon 8. We took advantage of viable etr-1(lq61) to identify potential RNA targets of ETR-1 in body wall muscle using a combination of fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) of body wall muscles from wild-type and etr-1(lq61) and subsequent RNA-seq. This analysis revealed genes whose splicing and transcript levels were controlled by ETR-1 exon 8 isoforms, and represented a broad spectrum of genes involved in muscle differentiation, myofilament lattice structure, and physiology. Genes with transcripts underrepresented in etr-1(lq61) included those involved in ribosome function and translation, similar to potential CELF1 targets identified in chick cardiomyocytes. This suggests that at least some targets of ETR-1 might be conserved in vertebrates, and that ETR-1 might generally stimulate translation in muscles. As proof-of-principle, a functional analysis of a subset of ETR-1 targets revealed genes involved in AQR and PQR neuronal migration. One such gene, lev-11/tropomyosin, requires ETR-1 for alternative splicing, and another, unc-52/perlecan, requires ETR-1 for the production of long isoforms containing 3′ exons. In sum, these studies identified gene targets of ETR-1/CELF1 in muscles, which included genes involved in muscle development and physiology, and genes with novel roles in neuronal migration.