Alternative pre-mRNA processing is a central element of eukaryotic gene regulation. The cell frequently alters the use of alternative exons in response to physiological stimuli. Ceramides are lipid-signaling molecules composed of sphingosine and a fatty acid. Previously, water-insoluble ceramides were shown to change alternative splicing and decrease SR-protein phosphorylation by activating protein phosphatase-1 (PP1). To gain further mechanistical insight into ceramide-mediated alternative splicing, we analyzed the effect of C6 pyridinium ceramide (PyrCer) on alternative splice site selection. PyrCer is a water-soluble ceramide analog that is under investigation as a cancer drug. We found that PyrCer binds to the PP1 catalytic subunit and inhibits the dephosphorylation of several splicing regulatory proteins containing the evolutionarily conserved RVxF PP1-binding motif (including PSF/SFPQ, Tra2-beta1 and SF2/ASF). In contrast to natural ceramides, PyrCer promotes phosphorylation of splicing factors. Exons that are regulated by PyrCer have in common suboptimal splice sites, are unusually short and share two 4-nt motifs, GAAR and CAAG. They are dependent on PSF/SFPQ, whose phosphorylation is regulated by PyrCer. Our results indicate that lipids can influence pre-mRNA processing by regulating the phosphorylation status of specific regulatory factors, which is mediated by protein phosphatase activity.

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Published in Nucleic Acids Research, v. 40, no. 9, p. 4025-4039.

© The Author(s) 2011. Published by Oxford University Press.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0), which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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