Resolution of polycistronic RNA by SL2 trans-splicing is a widely-conserved nematode trait

Marius Wenzel, Christopher Scott Johnston, Berndt Marino Müller, Jonathan Pettitt*, Bernadette Connolly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Spliced leader trans-splicing is essential for the processing and translation of polycistronic RNAs generated by eukaryotic operons. In C. elegans, a specialised spliced leader, SL2, provides the 5’ end for uncapped pre-mRNAs derived from polycistronic RNAs. Studies of other nematodes suggested that SL2-type trans-splicing is a relatively recent innovation, confined to Rhabditina, the clade containing C. elegans and its close relatives. Here we conduct a survey of transcriptome-wide spliced leader trans-splicing in Trichinella spiralis, a distant relative of C. elegans with a particularly diverse repertoire of 15 spliced leaders. By systematically comparing the genomic context of trans-splicing events for each spliced leader, we identified a subset of T. spiralis spliced leaders that are specifically used to process polycistronic RNAs - the first examples of SL2-type spliced leaders outside of Rhabditina. These T. spiralis spliced leader RNAs possess a perfectly conserved stem-loop motif previously shown to be essential for SL2-type trans-splicing in C. elegans. We show that genes trans-spliced to these SL2-type spliced leaders are organised in operonic fashion, with short intercistronic distances. A subset of T. spiralis operons show conservation of synteny with C. elegans operons. Our work substantially revises our understanding of nematode spliced leader trans-splicing, showing that SL2 trans-splicing is a major mechanism for nematode polycistronic RNA processing, which may have evolved prior to the radiation of the Nematoda. This work has important implications for the improvement of genome annotation pipelines in nematodes and other eukaryotes with operonic gene organisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1891-1904
Number of pages14
Issue number12
Early online date4 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • nematodes
  • operons
  • polycistronic RNA
  • trans-splicing
  • Trichinella spiralis
  • Polycistronic RNA
  • Trans-splicing
  • Nematodes
  • Operons


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