The mRNAs that encode certain cytokines and proto-oncogenes frequently contain a typical AU-rich motif that is located in their 3'-untranslated region. The protein AUF1 is the first factor identified that binds to AU-rich regions and mediates the fast degradation of the target mRNAs. AUF1 exists as four different isoforms (p37, p40, p42 and p45) that are generated by alternative splicing. The fact that AUF1 does not degrade mRNA itself had led to the suggestion that other AUF1 interacting proteins might be involved in the process of selective mRNA degradation. Here we used the yeast two-hybrid system in order to identify proteins that bind to AUF1. We detected AUF1 itself, as well as the ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme E2I and three RNA binding proteins: NSEP-1, NSAP-1 and IMP-2, as AUF1 interacting proteins. We confirmed all interactions in vitro and mapped the protein domains that are involved in the interaction with AUF1. Gel-shift assays with the recombinant purified proteins suggest that the interacting proteins and AUF1 can bind simultaneously to an AU-rich RNA oligonucleotide. Most interestingly, the AUF1 interacting protein NSEP-1 showed an endoribonuclease activity in vitro. These data suggest the possibility that the identified AUF1 interacting proteins might be involved in the regulation of mRNA stability mediated by AUF1.
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