Theses Doctoral

Designer Exons Inform a Biophysical Model for Exon Definition

Arias, Mauricio A.

Pre-mRNA molecules in humans contain mostly short internal exons flanked by long introns. To explain the removal of such introns, recognition of the exons instead of recognition of the introns has been proposed. This thesis studies this exon definition mechanism using a bottom-up approach. To reduce the complexity of the system under study, this exon definition mechanism was addressed using designer exons made up of prototype sequence modules of our own design (including an exonic splicing enhancer or silencer). Studies were performed in vitro with a set of DEs obtained from random combinations of the exonic splicing enhancer and the exonic splicing silencer modules. The results showed considerable variability both in terms of the composition and size of the DEs and in terms of their inclusion level. To understand how different DEs generated different inclusion levels, the problem was divided into understanding separately parameters varied between DEs. Subsequent studies focused on each of three parameters: size, ESE composition and ESS composition. The final objective was to be able to combine their effects to predict the inclusion levels obtained for the "random" DEs mentioned previously. To complement this experimental approach an equation was generated in two stages. First a general "framework" equation was obtained modeling a necessary exon definition complex that enabled commitment to inclusion. This equation used rates for the formation and dissociation of this complex without elaborating on the details for how those rates came about. In the second stage, however, formation and dissociation were modeled using novel but intuitive ideas and these models were combined into a final equation. This equation using the single-parameter perturbation data obtained previously performed well in predicting the inclusion levels of the "random" DEs. Additionally, both the final equation and the mechanisms proposed align well with results published by other groups. In order to make these results more accessible and to open more opportunities to extend them, an initial attempt is presented to identify the proteins involved in the functionality observed for each of the sequences used.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Biological Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Chasin, Lawrence Allen
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 13, 2013