RNA pull-down-confocal nanoscanning (RP-CONA), a novel method for studying RNA/protein interactions in cell extracts that detected potential drugs for Parkinson’s disease targeting RNA/HuR complexes


MicroRNAs (miRNAs, miRs) are a class of small non-coding RNAs that regulate gene expression through specific base-pair targeting. The functional mature miRNAs usually undergo a two-step cleavage from primary miRNAs (pri-miRs), then precursor miRNAs (pre-miRs). The biogenesis of miRNAs is tightly controlled by different RNA-binding proteins (RBPs). The dysregulation of miRNAs is closely related to a plethora of diseases. Targeting miRNA biogenesis is becoming a promising therapeutic strategy. HuR and MSI2 are both RBPs. MiR-7 is post-transcriptionally inhibited by the HuR/MSI2 complex, through a direct interaction between HuR and the conserved terminal loop (CTL) of pri-miR-7-1. Small molecules dissociating pri-miR-7/HuR interaction may induce miR-7 production. Importantly, the miR-7 levels are negatively correlated with Parkinson’s disease (PD). PD is a common, incurable neurodegenerative disease causing serious motor deficits. A hallmark of PD is the presence of Lewy bodies in the human brain, which are inclusion bodies mainly composed of an aberrantly aggregated protein named α-synuclein (α-syn). Decreasing α-syn levels or preventing α-syn aggregation are under investigation as PD treatments. Notably, α-syn is negatively regulated by several miRNAs, including miR-7, miR-153, miR-133b and others. One hypothesis is that elevating these miRNA levels can inhibit α-syn expression and ameliorate PD pathologies. In this project, we identified miR-7 as the most effective α-syn inhibitor, among the miRNAs that are downregulated in PD, and with α-syn targeting potentials. We also observed potential post-transcriptional inhibition on miR-153 biogenesis in neuroblastoma, which may help to uncover novel therapeutic targets towards PD. To identify miR-7 inducers that benefit PD treatment by repressing α-syn expression, we developed a novel technique RNA Pull-down Confocal Nanoscaning (RP-CONA) to monitor the binding events between pri-miR-7 and HuR. By attaching FITC-pri-miR-7-1-CTL-biotin to streptavidin-coated agarose beads and incubating them in human cultured cell lysates containing overexpressed mCherry-HuR, the bound RNA and protein can be visualised as quantifiable fluorescent rings in corresponding channels in a confocal high-content image system. A pri-miR-7/HuR inhibitor can decrease the relative mCherry/FITC intensity ratio in RP-CONA. With this technique, we performed several small-scale screenings and identified that a bioflavonoid, quercetin can largely dissociate the pri-miR-7/HuR interaction. Further studies proved that quercetin was an effective miR-7 inducer as well as α-syn inhibitor in HeLa cells. To understand the mechanism of quercetin mediated α-syn inhibition, we tested the effects of quercetin treatment with miR-7-1 and HuR knockout HeLa cells. We found that HuR was essential in this pathway, while miR-7 hardly contributed to the α-syn inhibition. HuR can directly bind an AU-rich element (ARE) at the 3’ untranslated region (3’-UTR) of α-syn mRNA and promote translation. We believe quercetin mainly disrupts the ARE/HuR interaction and disables the HuR-induced α-syn expression. In conclusion, we developed and optimised RP-CONA, an on-bead, lysate-based technique detecting RNA/protein interactions, as well as identifying RNA/protein modulators. With RP-CONA, we found quercetin inducing miR-7 biogenesis, and inhibiting α-syn expression. With these beneficial effects, quercetin has great potential to be applied in the clinic of PD treatment. Finally, RP-CONA can be used in many other RNA/protein interactions studies

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