Dynamic regulation and requirement for ribosomal RNA transcription during mammalian development

Karla T Falcon, Kristin E N Watt, Soma Dash, Ruonan Zhao, Daisuke Sakai, Emma L Moore, Sharien Fitriasari, Melissa Childers, Mihaela E Sardiu, Selene Swanson, Dai Tsuchiya, Jay Unruh, George Bugarinovic, Lin Li, Rita Shiang, Annita Achilleos, Jill Dixon, Michael J Dixon, Paul A Trainor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) transcription by RNA polymerase I (Pol I) is a critical rate-limiting step in ribosome biogenesis, which is essential for cell survival. Despite its global function, disruptions in ribosome biogenesis cause tissue-specific birth defects called ribosomopathies, which frequently affect craniofacial development. Here, we describe a cellular and molecular mechanism underlying the susceptibility of craniofacial development to disruptions in Pol I transcription. We show that Pol I subunits are highly expressed in the neuroepithelium and neural crest cells (NCCs), which generate most of the craniofacial skeleton. High expression of Pol I subunits sustains elevated rRNA transcription in NCC progenitors, which supports their high tissue-specific levels of protein translation, but also makes NCCs particularly sensitive to rRNA synthesis defects. Consistent with this model, NCC-specific deletion of Pol I subunits Polr1a, Polr1c, and associated factor Tcof1 in mice cell-autonomously diminishes rRNA synthesis, which leads to p53 protein accumulation, resulting in NCC apoptosis and craniofacial anomalies. Furthermore, compound mutations in Pol I subunits and associated factors specifically exacerbate the craniofacial anomalies characteristic of the ribosomopathies Treacher Collins syndrome and Acrofacial Dysostosis-Cincinnati type. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that diminished rRNA synthesis causes an imbalance between rRNA and ribosomal proteins. This leads to increased binding of ribosomal proteins Rpl5 and Rpl11 to Mdm2 and concomitantly diminished binding between Mdm2 and p53. Altogether, our results demonstrate a dynamic spatiotemporal requirement for rRNA transcription during mammalian cranial NCC development and corresponding tissue-specific threshold sensitivities to disruptions in rRNA transcription in the pathogenesis of congenital craniofacial disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e2116974119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number31
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2022


  • Animals
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities/genetics
  • Mandibulofacial Dysostosis/genetics
  • Mice
  • Neural Crest/embryology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-mdm2/metabolism
  • RNA Polymerase I/metabolism
  • RNA, Ribosomal/genetics
  • Ribosomal Proteins/metabolism
  • Skull/embryology
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53/genetics


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