The fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) is a RNA-binding protein proposed to post-transcriptionally regulate the expression of genes important for neuronal development and synaptic plasticity. We previously demonstrated that FMRP binds to its own FMR1 mRNA via a guanine-quartet (G-quartet) RNA motif. However, the functional effect of this binding on FMR1 expression was not established. In this work, we characterized the FMRP binding site (FBS) within the FMR1 mRNA by a site directed mutagenesis approach and we investigated its importance for FMR1 expression. We show that the FBS in the FMR1 mRNA adopts two alternative G-quartet structures to which FMRP can equally bind. While FMRP binding to mRNAs is generally proposed to induce translational regulation, we found that mutations in the FMR1 mRNA suppressing binding to FMRP do not affect its translation in cellular models. We show instead that the FBS is a potent exonic splicing enhancer in a minigene system. Furthermore, FMR1 alternative splicing is affected by the intracellular level of FMRP. These data suggest that the G-quartet motif present in the FMR1 mRNA can act as a control element of its alternative splicing in a negative autoregulatory loop.
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