The RNA-binding protein HuD binds acetylcholinesterase mRNA in neurons and regulates its expression after axotomy.
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After axotomy, expression of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) is greatly reduced in the superior cervical ganglion (SCG); however, the molecular events involved in this response remain unknown. Here, we first examined AChE mRNA levels in the brain of transgenic mice that overexpress human HuD. Both in situ hybridization and reverse transcription-PCR demonstrated that AChE transcript levels were increased by more than twofold in the hippocampus of HuD transgenic mice. Additionally, direct interaction between the HuD transgene product and AChE mRNA was observed. Next, we examined the role of HuD in regulating AChE expression in intact and axotomized rat SCG neurons. After axotomy of the adult rat SCG neurons, AChE transcript levels decreased by 50 and 85% by the first and fourth day, respectively. In vitro mRNA decay assays indicated that the decrease in AChE mRNA levels resulted from changes in the stability of presynthesized transcripts. A combination of approaches performed using the region that directly encompasses an adenylate and uridylate (AU)-rich element within the AChE 3'-untranslated region demonstrated a decrease in RNA-protein complexes in response to axotomy of the SCG and, specifically, a decrease in HuD binding. After axotomy, HuD transcript and protein levels also decreased. Using a herpes simplex virus construct containing the human HuD sequence to infect SCG neurons in vivo, we found that AChE and GAP-43 mRNA levels were maintained in the SCG after axotomy. Together, the results of this study demonstrate that AChE expression in neurons of the rat SCG is regulated via post-transcriptional mechanisms that involve the AU-rich element and HuD.