Cellular variability of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay

Hanae Sato, Robert H. Singer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) is an mRNA degradation pathway that eliminates transcripts containing premature termination codons (PTCs). Half-lives of the mRNAs containing PTCs demonstrate that a small percent escape surveillance and do not degrade. It is not known whether this escape represents variable mRNA degradation within cells or, alternatively cells within the population are resistant. Here we demonstrate a single-cell approach with a bi-directional reporter, which expresses two β-globin genes with or without a PTC in the same cell, to characterize the efficiency of NMD in individual cells. We found a broad range of NMD efficiency in the population; some cells degraded essentially all of the mRNAs, while others escaped NMD almost completely. Characterization of NMD efficiency together with NMD regulators in single cells showed cell-to-cell variability of NMD reflects the differential level of surveillance factors, SMG1 and phosphorylated UPF1. A single-cell fluorescent reporter system that enabled detection of NMD using flow cytometry revealed that this escape occurred either by translational readthrough at the PTC or by a failure of mRNA degradation after successful translation termination at the PTC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7203
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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