Molecular biology of the cell 2016 11 3028(3) 476-487 doi 10.1091/mbc.E16-08-0612
Cis-acting RNA structural elements govern crucial aspects of viral gene expression. How these structures and other posttranscriptional signals affect RNA trafficking and translation in the context of single cells is poorly understood. Herein we describe a multicolor, long-term (>24 h) imaging strategy for measuring integrated aspects of viral RNA regulatory control in individual cells. We apply this strategy to demonstrate differential mRNA trafficking behaviors governed by RNA elements derived from three retroviruses (HIV-1, murine leukemia virus, and Mason-Pfizer monkey virus), two hepadnaviruses (hepatitis B virus and woodchuck hepatitis virus), and an intron-retaining transcript encoded by the cellular NXF1 gene. Striking behaviors include "burst" RNA nuclear export dynamics regulated by HIV-1’s Rev response element and the viral Rev protein; transient aggregations of RNAs into discrete foci at or near the nuclear membrane triggered by multiple elements; and a novel, pulsiform RNA export activity regulated by the hepadnaviral posttranscriptional regulatory element. We incorporate single-cell tracking and a data-mining algorithm into our approach to obtain RNA element-specific, high-resolution gene expression signatures. Together these imaging assays constitute a tractable, systems-based platform for studying otherwise difficult to access spatiotemporal features of viral and cellular gene regulation.