The mRNA repressor TRIM71 cooperates with Nonsense-Mediated Decay factors to destabilize the mRNA of CDKN1A/p21.
Nonsense-mediated decay (NMD) plays a fundamental role in the degradation of premature termination codon (PTC)-containing transcripts, but also regulates the expression of functional transcripts lacking PTCs, although such 'non-canonical' functions remain ill-defined and require the identification of factors targeting specific mRNAs to the NMD machinery. Our work identifies the stem cell-specific mRNA repressor protein TRIM71 as one of these factors. TRIM71 plays an essential role in embryonic development and is linked to carcinogenesis. For instance, TRIM71 has been correlated with advanced stages and poor prognosis in hepatocellular carcinoma. Our data shows that TRIM71 represses the mRNA of the cell cycle inhibitor and tumor suppressor CDKN1A/p21 and promotes the proliferation of HepG2 tumor cells. CDKN1A specific recognition involves the direct interaction of TRIM71 NHL domain with a structural RNA stem-loop motif within the CDKN1A 3'UTR. Importantly, CDKN1A repression occurs independently of miRNA-mediated silencing. Instead, the NMD factors SMG1, UPF1 and SMG7 assist TRIM71-mediated degradation of CDKN1A mRNA, among other targets. Our data sheds light on TRIM71-mediated target recognition and repression mechanisms and uncovers a role for this stem cell-specific factor and oncogene in non-canonical NMD, revealing the existence of a novel mRNA surveillance mechanism which we have termed the TRIM71/NMD axis.