RNA editing and autophagy in Drosophila melanogaster
Post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression involves a diverse set of mechanisms such as RNA splicing, RNA localization, and RNA turn-over. Adenosine to Inosine (A-to-I) RNA editing is an additional post-transcriptional regulatory mechanism. Temporally, it occurs after transcription and before RNA splicing and has been shown in some instances to possibly modulate alternative splicing events. This is the case for example, with the pre-mRNA encoding the GluR- 2 subunit of AMPA receptor, a glutamate-activated ion channel. ADAR (Adenosine deaminase acting on RNA) proteins bind to double-stranded regions in pre-messenger RNAs. They deaminate specific adenosines, generating inosines; if the editing event occurs within the coding region, inosine is then interpreted as guanosine by the ribosomal translational machinery, changing codon meaning. These editing events can increase the repertoire of translated proteins, generating molecular diversity and modifying protein function. In mammals there are four ADAR genes: ADAR1, ADAR2, ADAR3 and TENR. ADAR3 and TENR are enzymatically inactive. All the proteins have two types of functional domains: (i) the catalytic deaminase domain at the carboxyl-terminus and (ii) the double stranded RNA binding domains, dsRBDs, at the amino terminus. ADAR1 and ADAR2 differ significantly at the amino terminus, by the number of the dsRNA binding domains (three and two dsRBDs for ADAR1 and ADAR2 protein, respectively). The differences observed between ADAR1 and ADAR2 are likely to reflect the different repertoires of substrates edited by these two enzymes. Data concerning the conservation of Adar genes throughout evolution suggest that Drosophila melanogaster has a unique Adar gene which is a true ortholog of human ADAR2 rather than an invertebrate gene ancestral for both vertebrate genes. Flies that are null mutants for Adar (Adar5G1 mutants) display profound behavioral and locomotive deficits. Impairment in motor activity of the mutants is succeeded by age-dependent neurodegeneration, characterized by swelling within the Adar-null mutant fly brain. The initial focus of my thesis was to elucidate what causes Adar mutant phenotypes or, whether it is possible, to suppress them. I took advantage of Drosophila genetics to establish a forward genetic screen for suppressors of reduced Adar5G1 viability which is approximately 20-30% in comparison to control flies at eclosion. The results from an interaction screen on Chromosome 2L were further confirmed using Exelixis P-element insertion lines. The screen revealed that decreasing Tor (Target of rapamycin) expression suppresses Adar mutant phenotypes. TOR plays a role in maintaining cellular homeostasis by balancing the metabolic processes. It controls anabolic events by phosphorylating eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E-binding protein (4E-BP) and p70 S6 kinase (S6K) and inducing cap-mediated translation. However, different types of stress, signals or increased demand in catabolic processes, converge to reduce TOR enzymatic activity. This results in long-lived proteins and organelles being engulfed in double-membrane vesicles and degraded; this bulk degradation process is called (macro)autophagy. The second aim of my thesis was to clarify which pathway, downstream to TOR, was responsible for the suppression of Adar-null phenotypes. I mimicked the effect of reduced Tor expression by manipulating genetically the cap-dependent translation and the autophagy pathways. Interestingly, boosting the expression of Atg (autophagy specific genes) genes, such as, Atg1 and Atg5, thereby increasing the activation rate of the autophagy pathway, suppresses Adar5G1 phenotypes. Finally, I found that Adar5G1 mutant flies have an increased level of autophagy that is observable from the larval stage. I investigated possible stresses affecting our mutants; Adar-mutant larval fat cells show ER stress triggering an unfolded protein response as indicated by expression of XbpI-eGFP reporter. Thus, ER stress might induce increased autophagy and it can lead to locomotive impairments and neurodegeneration in Adar-null mutants. These results suggest a function for the Adar gene in regulating cellular stress.