The mammalian gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) gene consists of four short exons (denoted as 1, 2, 3, and 4) and three intervening introns (A, B, and C). Recently, we demonstrated that excision of the first intron (intron A) from the GnRH transcript is regulated in a tissue- and developmental stage-specific fashion and is severely attenuated in hypogonadal (hpg) mouse because of its lack of exonic splicing enhancers (ESE) 3 and 4. In the present study, we examined the influence of intron A on translational efficiency, thereby establishing a post-transcriptional control over GnRH biosynthesis. First, we verified that an intron A-retained GnRH transcript is a splicing variant but not a splicing intermediate. Intron A-retained transcripts can be transported to the cytoplasm in contrast to intron B-containing transcripts, which are restricted to the nucleus. This result implicates the intron A-retained GnRH transcript as a splicing variant; it has a long 5′-untranslated region, as the GnRH prohormone open reading frame (ORF) begins on exon 2. We investigated whether an intron A-retained GnRH transcript can properly initiate translation at the appropriate start codon and found that intron A completely blocks the translation initiation of its downstream reporter ORF both in vivo and in vitro. The inhibition of translation initiation appears to be due to the presence of a tandem repeat of ATG sequences within intron A. Constructs bearing mutations of ATGs to AAGs restored translation initiation at the downstream start codon; the extent of this restoration correlated with the number of mutated ATGs. Besides the failure in the translation initiation of GnRH-coding region in the intron A-containing variant, the present study also suggests that the interference between mature GnRH mRNA and intron A-retained splicing variant could occur to lower the efficiency of GnRH biosynthesis in the GT1-1-immortalized GnRH-producing cell line. Therefore, our results indicate that the precise and efficient excision of intron A and the joining of adjacent exons may be a critical regulatory step for the post-transcriptional regulation of GnRH biosynthesis.
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