Human U2 snRNP contains two specific proteins, U2A' and U2B", that interact with U2 snRNA stem-loop IV. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, only the counterpart of human U2B", Yib9p, has been identified. Database searches revealed a gene potentially coding for a protein with striking similarities to human U2A', henceforth called LEA1 (looks exceptionally like U2A'). We demonstrate that Lea1p is a specific component of the yeast U2 snRNP. In addition, we show that Lea1p interacts directly with Yib9p. In vivo association of Lea1p with U2 snRNA requires Yib9p. Reciprocally, Yib9p binds to the U2 snRNA only in the presence of Lea1p in vivo, even though it has been previously shown to associate on its own with the U2 snRNA stem-loop IV in vitro. Strains lacking LEA1 and/or YIB9 grow slowly, are temperature sensitive and contain reduced levels of U2 snRNA. Pre-mRNA splicing is strongly impaired in these cells. In vitro studies demonstrate that spliceosome assembly is blocked prior to addition of U2 snRNP. This phenotype can be rescued partially, but specifically, by addition of the corresponding recombinant protein(s). This demonstrates a specific role for the yeast U2 snRNP specific proteins during formation of the pre-spliceosome.
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