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This article is part of the supplement: Problems and tools in the systems biology of the neuronal cell

Open Access Review

Rules of engagement promote polarity in RNA trafficking

John H Carson*, Nicholas Blondin and George Korza

Author Affiliations

Department of Molecular Microbial and Structural Biology, Center for Cell Analysis, and Modelling, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, CT 06030, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2006, 7(Suppl 1):S3  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-7-S1-S3

Published: 30 October 2006


Many cell biological pathways exhibit overall polarity (net movement of molecules in one direction) even though individual molecular interactions in the pathway are freely reversible. The A2 RNA trafficking pathway exhibits polarity in moving specific RNA molecules from the nucleus to localization sites in the myelin compartment of oligodendrocytes or dendritic spines in neurons. The A2 pathway is mediated by a ubiquitously expressed trans-acting trafficking factor (hnRNP A2) that interacts with a specific 11 nucleotide cis-acting trafficking sequence termed the A2 response element (A2RE) found in several localized RNAs. Five different molecular partners for hnRNP A2 have been identified in the A2 pathway: hnRNP A2 itself, transportin, A2RE RNA, TOG (tumor overexpressed gene) and hnRNP E1, each playing a key role in one particular step of the A2 pathway. Sequential interactions of hnRNP A2 with different molecular partners at each step mediate directed movement of trafficking intermediates along the pathway.

Specific "rules of engagement" (both and, either or, only if) govern sequential interactions of hnRNP A2 with each of its molecular partners. Rules of engagement are defined experimentally using three component binding assays to measure differential binding of hnRNP A2 to one partner in the presence of each of the other partners in the pathway. Here we describe rules of engagement for hnRNP A2 binding to each of its molecular partners and discuss how these rules of engagement promote polarity in the A2 RNA trafficking pathway.

For molecules with multiple binding partners, specific rules of engagement govern different molecular interactions. Rules of engagement are ultimately determined by structural relationships between binding sites on individual molecules. In the A2 RNA trafficking pathway rules of engagement governing interactions of hnRNP A2 with different binding partners provide the basis for polarity of movement of intermediates along the pathway.