The secondary structure of a pre-mRNA influences a number of processing steps including alternative splicing. Since most splicing regulatory proteins bind to single-stranded RNA, the sequestration of RNA into double strands could prevent their binding. Here, we analyzed the secondary structure context of experimentally determined splicing enhancer and silencer motifs in their natural pre-mRNA context. We found that these splicing motifs are significantly more single-stranded than controls. These findings were validated by transfection experiments, where the effect of enhancer or silencer motifs on exon skipping was much more pronounced in single-stranded conformation. We also found that the structural context of predicted splicing motifs is under selection, suggesting a general importance of secondary structures on splicing and adding another level of evolutionary constraints on pre-mRNAs. Our results explain the action of mutations that affect splicing and indicate that the structural context of splicing motifs is part of the mRNA splicing code.

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Published in PLOS Genetics, v. 3, no. 11, e204.

© 2007 Hiller et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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