The splicing of microexons (very small exons) is frequently dysregulated in the brain of individuals with autism spectrum disorder. However, little is known of the patterns, regulatory mechanisms and roles of microexon splicing in cancer. We here examined the transcriptome-wide profile of microexon splicing in matched colorectal cancer (CRC) and normal tissue specimens. Out of 1492 microexons comprising 3 to 15 nucleotides, 21 (1%) manifested differential splicing between CRC and normal tissue. The 21 genes harboring the differentially spliced microexons were enriched in gene ontology terms related to cell adhesion and migration. RNA interference-mediated knockdown experiments identified two splicing factors, RBFOX2 and PTBP1, as regulators of microexon splicing in CRC cells. RBFOX2 and PTBP1 were found to directly bind to microexon-containing pre-mRNAs and to control their splicing in such cells. Differential microexon splicing was shown to be due, at least in part, to altered expression of RBFOX2 and PTBP1 in CRC tissue compared to matched normal tissue. Finally, we found that changes in the pattern of microexon splicing were associated with CRC metastasis. Our data thus suggest that altered expression of RBFOX2 and PTBP1 might influence CRC metastasis through the regulation of microexon splicing.
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