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Structure-functional studies on lncRNA MEG3

Abstract : Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are key players in vital cellular processes, including chromatin remodelling, DNA repair and translation. However, the size and complexity of lncRNAs present unprecedented challenges for mechanistic molecular studies, so that connecting structural information with biological function for lncRNAs has proven difficult so far.Human maternally expressed gene 3 (MEG3) is an abundant, imprinted, alternatively-spliced lncRNA. During embryogenesis MEG3 controls Polycomb proteins, regulating cell differentiation, and in adult cells MEG3 controls p53, regulating the cellular response to environmental stresses. In cancerous cells, MEG3 is downregulated, but ectopic overexpression of MEG3 reduces uncontrolled proliferation, proving that MEG3 acts as a tumour suppressor. Evidence suggests that MEG3 functions may be regulated by the MEG3 structure. For instance, MEG3 is thought to bind p53 and Polycomb proteins directly. Moreover, different MEG3 splice variants, which comprise different exons and thus possess potentially different structures, display different functions. Finally, deletion mutagenesis based on a MEG3 structure predicted in silico identified a putatively-structured MEG3 motif involved in p53 activation. However, at the beginning of my work, the experimental structure of MEG3 was unknown.To understand the MEG3 structure and function, I used chemical probing in vitro and in vivo to determine the secondary structure maps of two human MEG3 variants that differ in their p53 activation levels. Using functional assays in cells and mutagenesis, I systematically scanned the MEG3 structure and identified the p53-activating core in two domains (D2 and D3) that are structurally conserved across human variants and evolutionarily conserved across mammals. In D2-D3, the most important structural regions are helices H11 and H27, because in these regions I could tune p53 activation even by point mutations, a degree of precision never achieved for any other lncRNA to date. I surprisingly discovered that H11 and H27 are connected by “kissing loops”, and I confirmed the functional importance of these long-range tertiary structure interactions by compensatory mutagenesis. Going beyond state-of-the-art, I thus attempted to visualize the 3D structure of a 1595-nucleotide long MEG3 isoform by small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), electron microscopy (EM), and atomic force microscopy (AFM). While SAXS and EM are limited by currently-insurmountable technical challenges, single particle imaging by AFM allowed me to obtain the first low resolution 3D structure of MEG3 and reveal its compact, globular tertiary scaffold. Most remarkably, functionally-disrupting mutations that break the H11-H27 “kissing loops” disrupt such MEG3 scaffold, providing the first direct connection between 3D structure and biological function for an lncRNA.Based on my discoveries, I can therefore propose a structure-based mechanism for p53 activation by human MEG3, with important implications in understanding carcinogenesis. More broadly, my work serves as proof-of-concept that lncRNA structure-function relationships can be dissected with high precision and opens the field to analogous studies aimed to gain mechanistic insights into many other medically-relevant lncRNAs.
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Tina Uroda. Structure-functional studies on lncRNA MEG3. Biomolecules [q-bio.BM]. Université Grenoble Alpes, 2019. English. ⟨NNT : 2019GREAV014⟩. ⟨tel-02569435⟩

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