The nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) pathway rapidly detects and degrades mRNA containing premature termination codons (PTCs). UP-frameshift 1 (UPF1), the master regulator of the NMD process, has two alternatively-spliced isoforms; one carries 353-GNEDLVIIWLR-363 insertion in the ‘regulatory loop (involved in mRNA binding)’. Such insertion can induce catalytic and/or ATPase activity, as determined experimentally; however, the kinetics and molecular level information are not fully understood. Herein, applying all-atom molecular dynamics, we probe the binding specificity of UPF1 with different GC- and AU-rich mRNA motifs and the influence of insertion to the viable control over UPF1 catalytic activity. Our results indicate two distinct conformations between 1B and RecA2 domains of UPF1: ‘open (isoform_2; without insertion)’ and ‘closed (isoform_1; with insertion)’. These structural movements correspond to an important stacking pattern in mRNA motifs, i.e., absence of stack formation in mRNA, with UPF1 isoform_2 results in the ‘open conformation’. Particularly, for UPF1 isoform_1, the increased distance between 1B and RecA2 domains has resulted in reducing the mRNA–UPF1 interactions. Lower fluctuating GC-rich mRNA motifs have better binding with UPF1, compared with AU-rich sequences. Except CCUGGGG, all other GC-rich motifs formed a 4-stack pattern with UPF1. High occupancy R363, D364, T627, and G862 residues were common binding GC-rich motifs, as were R363, N535, and T627 for the AU-rich motifs. The GC-rich motifs behave distinctly when bound to either of the isoforms; lower stability was observed with UPF1 isoform_2. The cancer-associated UPF1 variants (P533L/T and A839T) resulted in decreased protein–mRNA binding efficiency. Lack of mRNA stacking poses in the UPF1P533T
system significantly decreased UPF1-mRNA binding efficiency and increased distance between 1B-RecA2. These novel findings can serve to further inform NMD-associated mechanistic and kinetic studies.
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