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Mammalian tissues defective in nonsense-mediated mRNA decay display highly aberrant splicing patterns

Joachim Weischenfeldt123, Johannes Waage124, Geng Tian5, Jing Zhao5, Inge Damgaard123, Janus Schou Jakobsen12, Karsten Kristiansen6, Anders Krogh246, Jun Wang56 and Bo T Porse123*

Author Affiliations

1 The Finsen Laboratory, Rigshospitalet, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Copenhagen, DK2200 Copenhagen, Denmark

2 Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC), University of Copenhagen, DK-2200 Copenhagen, Denmark

3 Section for Gene Therapy Research, Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark

4 The Bioinformatics Centre, University of Copenhagen, DK-2200, Copenhagen, Denmark

5 BGI-Shenzhen, Shenzhen 518083, China

6 Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, DK-2200 Copenhagen, Denmark

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Genome Biology 2012, 13:R35  doi:10.1186/gb-2012-13-5-r35

Published: 24 May 2012



Nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) affects the outcome of alternative splicing by degrading mRNA isoforms with premature termination codons. Splicing regulators constitute important NMD targets; however, the extent to which loss of NMD causes extensive deregulation of alternative splicing has not previously been assayed in a global, unbiased manner. Here, we combine mouse genetics and RNA-seq to provide the first in vivo analysis of the global impact of NMD on splicing patterns in two primary mouse tissues ablated for the NMD factor UPF2.


We developed a bioinformatic pipeline that maps RNA-seq data to a combinatorial exon database, predicts NMD-susceptibility for mRNA isoforms and calculates the distribution of major splice isoform classes. We present a catalog of NMD-regulated alternative splicing events, showing that isoforms of 30% of all expressed genes are upregulated in NMD-deficient cells and that NMD targets all major splicing classes. Importantly, NMD-dependent effects are not restricted to premature termination codon+ isoforms but also involve an abundance of splicing events that do not generate premature termination codons. Supporting their functional importance, the latter events are associated with high intronic conservation.


Our data demonstrate that NMD regulates alternative splicing outcomes through an intricate web of splicing regulators and that its loss leads to the deregulation of a panoply of splicing events, providing novel insights into its role in core- and tissue-specific regulation of gene expression. Thus, our study extends the importance of NMD from an mRNA quality pathway to a regulator of several layers of gene expression.