Control of a neuronal morphology program by an RNA-binding zinc finger protein, Unkempt

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Cellular morphology is an essential determinant of cellular function in all kingdoms of life, yet little is known about how cell shape is controlled. Here we describe a molecular program that controls the early morphology of neurons through a metazoan-specific zinc finger protein, Unkempt. Depletion of Unkempt in mouse embryos disrupts the shape of migrating neurons, while ectopic expression confers neuronal-like morphology to cells of different nonneuronal lineages. We found that Unkempt is a sequence-specific RNA-binding protein and identified its precise binding sites within coding regions of mRNAs linked to protein metabolism and trafficking. RNA binding is required for Unkempt-induced remodeling of cellular shape and is directly coupled to a reduced production of the encoded proteins. These findings link post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression with cellular shape and have general implications for the development and disease of multicellular organisms.

Journal details

Volume 29
Issue number 5
Pages 501-512
Available online
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