The requirements for nuclear targeting of a number of U snRNAs have been studied by analyzing the behavior of in vitro-generated transcripts after microinjection into the cytoplasm of Xenopus oocytes. Like the previously studied U1 snRNA, U2 snRNA is excluded from the nucleus when it does not have the 2,2,7mGpppN cap structure typical of the RNA polymerase II (pol II)-transcribed U snRNAs. Surprisingly, two other pol II-transcribed U snRNAs, U4 and U5, have a much less stringent requirement for the trimethyl cap structure. The gamma-monomethyl triphosphate cap structure of the RNA polymerase III-transcribed U6 snRNA, on the other hand, is shown not to play a role in nuclear targeting. Wheat germ agglutinin, which is known to prevent the import of many proteins into the nucleus, inhibits nuclear uptake of U6, but not of U1 or U5 snRNAs. Conversely, a 2,2,7mGpppG dinucleotide analogue of the trimethyl cap structure inhibits transport of the pol II U snRNAs, but does not detectably affect the transport of either U6 snRNA or a karyophilic protein. From these results it can be deduced that U6 enters the nucleus by a pathway similar or identical to that used by karyophilic proteins. The composite nuclear localization signals of the trimethyl cap-containing U snRNPs, however, do not function in the same way as previously defined nuclear targeting signals.

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