About 70% of C. elegans mRNAs are trans-spliced to one of two 22 nucleotide spliced leaders. SL1 is used to trim off the 5'' ends of pre-mRNAs and replace them with the SL1 sequence. This processing event is very closely related to cis-splicing, or intron removal. The SL1 sequence is donated by a 100 nt small nuclear ribonucleoprotein particle (snRNP). This snRNP is structurally and functionally related to the U snRNAs (U1, U2, U4, U5 and U6) that play key roles in intron removal and trans-splicing, except that it is consumed in the process of splicing. More than half of C. elegans pre-mRNAs are subject to SL1 trans-splicing. About 30% are not trans-spliced at all. The remaining genes are trans-spliced by SL2. These genes are all downstream genes in closely spaced gene clusters similar to bacterial operons. They are transcribed from a promoter at the 5'' end of the cluster of between 2 and 8 genes. This transcription makes a polycistronic pre-mRNA that is co-transcriptionally processed by cleavage and polyadenylation at the 3'' end of each gene, and this event is closely coupled to the SL2 trans-splicing event that occurs only ~100 nt further downstream. Recent studies on the mechanism of SL2 trans-splicing have revealed that one of the 3'' end formation proteins, CstF, interacts with the only protein known to be specific to the SL2 snRNP. The operons contain primarily genes whose products are needed for mitochondrial function and the basic machinery of gene expression: transcription, splicing and translation. Many operons contain genes whose products are known to function together. This presumably provides co-regulation of these proteins by producing a single RNA that encodes both.
The advantages of the free-living nematode Caenrohabditis elegans as a model for pharmacologic, toxicant and anthelmintic testing have become apparent to many companies, and the application of this organism as a primary screen for test compounds or toxic agents has expanded rapidly. It is appropriate to briefly summarize some of this nematode's qualities, to invoke an appreciation of this elegant system. As true of many invertebrate test organisms, C. elegans is small (about 1 mm X 40 u at maturity) and has a short life cycle: reproduction starts on day 3-4, ceases by day 14 and by day 25 it dies. Thus, for aging studies, all the symptoms of senescence are compressed into a short time period. In addition, this nematode has a small, fixed number of cells (about 830 at maturity) and differentiated organ systems: nervous, excretory, muscular, digestive and reproductive. The preceding characteristics are not unique in invertebrate model systems and their enumeration fails to explain the increasing popularity of C. elegans as a test organism. To understand this phenomenon several additional facts must be emphasized. First, the selection of C. elegans for detailed studies on the genetic control and regulation of behavior and developmental processes has fostered a wealth of knowledge on its neuroanatomy, cell lineages, biochemistry and behavior. There is now undoubtedly more accumulated knowledge on C. elegans than on any other multicellular creature. It is also the largest metazoan which can be continuously cultured on a chemically defined medium, and though most studies have proceeded on undefined media or in monoxenic culture (utilizing a bacterium as a food source), this property can be exploited for precise nutritional studies. In regard to aging studies, the question of relevance of aging in the nematode to that in mammals has been answered in respect to some parameters which characterize senescence in humans, and further study will define other features of aging which are common to all metazoa. In practical terms, this means that test which require 24-36 months to rear an aged rat for evaluation of a pharmaceutical, can potentially be accomplished in 21 days using the nematode. The paper emphasizes that the use of the C. elegans system as a primary screen for candidate compounds to intervene in the aging process can save time, effort and money, while