Worm Breeder's Gazette 14(3): 56 (June 1, 1996)
These abstracts should not be cited in bibliographies. Material contained herein should be treated as personal communication and should be cited as such only with the consent of the author.
Dept. of Biological Sciences University of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta CANADA
Shortly after we reported the cloning of unc-119 (Genetics 141:977-988, 1995), a predicted protein of very similar sequence appeared in the databases. Higashide et al. (J. Biol. Chem. 271:1797-1804, 1996) identified an apparently novel protein expressed in the human retina. The cDNA for HRG4 (human retinal gene) was recovered in a search for retina-specific cDNAs using a subtractive hybridization approach. They demonstrated that the mRNA for the rat homolog RRG4 accumulates specifically in the retina around postnatal day 5 (the time of photoreceptor cell differentiation) and remains present through adulthood. Furthermore, in-situ hybridization showed that the message is specific for the rod and cone cells in the retina. The similarities between UNC-119 and HRG4 are striking (see Figure 1). The sizes are very similar (219 a.a. for UNC-119 vs. 240 a.a. for HRG4) and there is little homology at the very amino termini where the !extra! amino acids appear in an ideal alignment. The similarities reside in two extended domains that split the ORFs in two. The first region A shows 56% identity, and the B region shows 67% identity. The lack of conservation between the two regions coincides with the portion of the C. briggsae UNC-119 homolog that shows weakest similarity to C. elegans. The conserved regions extend over many groups of contiguous residues, the longest being in the carboxy terminus, which contains the conserved sequence -LVMHNKADYSY-. Both ORFs lack regions with similarity to other published sequences. In an effort to determine the degree of functional interchangeability with HRG4, we used RT-PCR on total RNA from human retina (a generous gift from the lab of Ian MacDonald, U of A) to obtain the majority of the coding region. We cloned this fragment into a vector that lacks the C. elegans ORF, but which retains the promoter and 3! flanking sequences (pDP#MM103; see Figure 2). The transgene appears to completely rescue the movement defect of unc-119(ed3op) mutants, consistent with the conservation of the function of this gene through evolution. If HRG4 can substitute for UNC-119, what do these proteins do? And of all the neural tissues in a human being, why is it only found in the retina? A clue may come from preliminary work using unc-119::GFP fusions to mark the nervous system. Animals mutant for unc-119 show an apparent neuron outgrowth defect, which is most noticeable in circumferential processes: These seem to have multiple branches and morphologies consistent with a disruption in outgrowth. Perhaps UNC-119 has a role in the correct assembly of the cytoskeleton, such that mutants manifest a phenotype resulting from an inability to favor proper growth cone projections. From the nematode findings, we can predict that a mouse or human disrupted for this gene would have disorganized photoreceptors, and hence be blind. Thus far, however, HRG4 has not been mapped or implicated in a human disease. [two small figures in original]