The biogenesis of the spliceosomal small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) U1, U2, U4, and U5 involves: (a) migration of the snRNA molecules from the nucleus to the cytoplasm; (b) assembly of a group of common proteins (Sm proteins) and their binding to a region on the snRNAs called the Sm-binding site; and (c) translocation of the RNP back to the nucleus. A first prerequisite for understanding the assembly pathway and nuclear transport of the snRNPs in more detail is the knowledge of all the snRNP proteins that play essential roles in these processes. We have recently observed a previously undetected 69-kD protein in 12S U1 snRNPs isolated from HeLa nuclear extracts under non-denaturing conditions that is clearly distinct from the U1-70K protein. The following evidence indicates that the 69-kD protein is a common, rather than a U1-specific, protein, possibly associating with the snRNP core particles by protein-protein interaction. (a) Antibodies raised against the 69-kD protein, which did not cross-react with any of the Sm proteins B'-G, precipitated not only U1 snRNPs, but also the other spliceosomal snRNPs U2, U4/U6 and U5, albeit to a lower extent. (b) U1, U2, and U5 core RNP particles reconstituted in vitro contain the 69-kD protein. (c) Xenopus laevis oocytes contain an immunologically related homologue of the human 69-kD protein. When U1 snRNA as well as a mutant U1 snRNA, that can bind the Sm core proteins but lacks the capacity to bind the U1-specific proteins 70K, A, and C, were injected into Xenopus oocytes to allow assembly in vivo, they were recognized by antibodies specific against the 69-kD protein in the ooplasm and in the nucleus. The 69-kD protein is under-represented, if present at all, in purified 17S U2 and in 25S [U4/U6.U5] tri-snRNPs, isolated from HeLa nuclear extracts. Our results are consistent with the working hypothesis that this protein may either play a role in the cytoplasmic assembly of the core domain of the snRNPs and/or in the nuclear transport of the snRNPs. After transport of the snRNPs into the nucleus, it may dissociate from the particles as for example in the case of the 17S U2 or the 25S [U4/U6.U5] tri-snRNP, which bind more than 10 different snRNP specific proteins each in the nucleus.

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