Differential Impact of VEGF and FGF2 Signaling Mechanisms on Flt1 Pre-mRNA Splicing

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Virginia Tech

The human proteome is exponentially derived from a limited number of genes via alternative splicing, where one gene gives rise to multiple proteins. Alternatively spliced gene products, although crucial for normal physiology, are also linked to an increasing number of pathologies. Consequently, a growing focus is currently being placed on elucidating the extrinsic cues and ensuing signaling mechanisms which direct changes in gene splicing to yield functionally distinct proteins. Of note is the dysregulation of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptor, Flt1 and its soluble splice variants, sFlt1_v1 and sFlt1_v2, in the pregnancy-related disorder, preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is characterized by proteinuria and hypertension and is responsible for almost 600,000 maternal and fetal yearly deaths, worldwide.

Here, we examined the impact of endothelial mitogens VEGF and FGF2 (fibroblast growth factor 2), both of which are upregulated in preeclampsia, on Flt1 transcript variants in umbilical vein endothelial cells. We tested the hypothesis that VEGF modulates the expression of Flt1 variants via the signaling kinase Akt and its impact on SR proteins. VEGF was observed to induce expression of overall Flt1 mRNA, principally as variants Flt1 and sFlt1_v1. Conversely, FGF2 induced a shift in splicing toward sFlt1_v2 without significant increase in overall Flt1. Based on inhibitor studies, the VEGF and FGF2 signals were transduced via ERK, but with the involvement of different upstream components. We mapped predicted SR protein binding to Flt1 pre-mRNA and identified two candidate proteins, SRSF2 and SRSF3, that may be involved in VEGF- or FGF2-induced Flt1 pre-mRNA splicing. Examination of SRSF2 and SRSF3 relative mRNA expression levels, following inhibition of VEGF- and FGF2-activated kinases, indicates that FGF2 significantly downregulates SRSF3 mRNA levels via PKC-independent activation of ERK. Additionally, our data suggest that FGF2 may impact Flt1 and sFlt1_v1 via SR protein kinases Akt and SRPK, while conversely regulating sFlt1_v2 levels via Clk. We did not find evidence of VEGF-induced Flt1 variant splicing via SR protein kinase activation or SRSF2 and SRSF3 mRNA levels. Thus, VEGF and FGF2 signals were tranduced via related but distinct mechanisms to differentially influence Flt1 pre-mRNA splicing. These findings implicate VEGF and FGF2 and their related intracellular signaling mechanisms in soluble Flt1 regulation.

Akt, Alternative splicing, FGF2, Flt1, ERK, Preeclampsia, pre-mRNA, Signal transduction, soluble Flt1, SR proteins, VEGF