Mutations in the mec-8 gene of Caenorhabditis elegans were previously shown to affect the functions of body wall muscle and mechanosensory and chemosensory neurons. Mutations in mec-8 also strongly enhance the mutant phenotype of specific mutations in unc-52, a gene that encodes, via alternative splicing of pre-mRNA, a set of basement membrane proteins, homologs of perlecan, that are important for body wall muscle assembly and attachment to basement membrane, hypodermis and cuticle. We have cloned mec-8 and found that it encodes a protein with two RNA recognition motifs, characteristic of RNA binding proteins. We have used reverse transcription-PCR and RNase protection experiments to show that mec-8 regulates the accumulation of a specific subset of alternatively spliced unc-52 transcripts. We have also shown with antibodies to UNC-52 that mec-8 affects the abundance of a subset of UNC-52 isoforms. We propose that mec-8 encodes a trans-acting factor that regulates the alternative splicing of the pre-mRNA of unc-52 and one or more additional genes that affect mechanosensory and chemosensory neuron function.

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