Zhao Y, Lindberg BG, Esfahani SS, Tang X, Piazza S, Engström Y
BMC Biol. 19 (1) 185 [2021-09-03; online 2021-09-03]
A number of cellular processes have evolved in metazoans that increase the proteome repertoire in relation to the genome, such as alternative splicing and translation recoding. Another such process, translational stop codon readthrough (SCR), generates C-terminally extended protein isoforms in many eukaryotes, including yeast, plants, insects, and humans. While comparative genome analyses have predicted the existence of programmed SCR in many species including humans, experimental proof of its functional consequences are scarce. We show that SCR of the Drosophila POU/Oct transcription factor Ventral veins lacking/Drifter (Vvl/Dfr) mRNA is prevalent in certain tissues in vivo, reaching a rate of 50% in the larval prothoracic gland. Phylogenetically, the C-terminal extension is conserved and harbors intrinsically disordered regions and amino acid stretches implied in transcriptional activation. Elimination of Vvl/Dfr translational readthrough by CRISPR/Cas9 mutagenesis changed the expression of a large number of downstream genes involved in processes such as chromatin regulation, neurogenesis, development, and immune response. As a proof-of-principle, we demonstrate that the C-terminal extension of Vvl/Dfr is necessary for correct timing of pupariation, by increasing the capacity to regulate its target genes. The extended Vvl/Dfr isoform acts in synergy with the transcription factor Molting defective (Mld) to increase the expression and biosynthesis of the steroid hormone ecdysone, thereby advancing pupariation. Consequently, late-stage larval development was prolonged and metamorphosis delayed in vvl/dfr readthrough mutants. We demonstrate that translational recoding of a POU/Oct transcription factor takes place in a highly tissue-specific and temporally controlled manner. This dynamic and regulated recoding is necessary for normal expression of a large number of genes involved in many cellular and developmental processes. Loss of Vvl/Dfr translational readthrough negatively affects steroid hormone biosynthesis and delays larval development and progression into metamorphosis. Thus, this study demonstrates how SCR of a transcription factor can act as a developmental switch in a spatiotemporal manner, feeding into the timing of developmental transitions between different life-cycle stages.