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Theses Doctoral

Rbfox splicing factors promote neuronal maturation and axon initial segment assembly

Jacko, Martin

The Rbfox proteins are a family of splicing regulators in post-mitotic neurons, predicted to be required for control of hundreds of alternative exons in neuronal development. However, their contribution to the cellular processes in developing and adult nervous system remains unclear and few candidate target exons were experimentally confirmed due to functional redundancy of the three Rbfox proteins. In this thesis, I combined CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering with in vitro differentiation of embryonic stem cells into spinal motor neurons to unravel the Rbfox regulatory network and to study the functional importance of Rbfox-dependent splicing regulation for neuronal maturation. Global analysis revealed that neurons lacking Rbfox proteins exhibit developmentally immature splicing profile but little change in the gene expression profile. Integrative modeling based on splicing changes in Rbfox triple knockout (Rbfox tKO) neurons and HITS-CLIP Rbfox binding mapping identified 547 cassette exons directly regulated by Rbfox proteins in maturing neurons. Strikingly, many transcripts encoding structural and functional components of axon initial segment (AIS), nodes of Ranver (NoR) and synapses undergo Rbfox-dependent regulation. I focused on the AIS whose assembly, which occurs during the early stages of neuronal maturation, is poorly understood. I found that the AIS of Rbfox tKO neurons is perturbed and contains disorganized ankyrin G, as revealed by super-resolution microscopy. This is in part due to an aberrant splicing of ankyrin G, resulting in destabilization of its interaction with βII- and βIV-spectrin. Thus, Rbfox factors play a crucial role in regulating a neurodevelopmental splicing program underlying structural and functional maturation of post-mitotic neurons. These data highlight the importance of alternative splicing in neurodevelopment and provide a novel link between alternative splicing regulation and AIS establishment.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Pathobiology and Molecular Medicine
Thesis Advisors
Wichterle, Hynek
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 23, 2017