The ZIC transcription factors are key mediators of embryonic development and ZIC3 is the gene most commonly associated with situs defects (heterotaxy) in humans. Half of patient ZIC3 mutations introduce a premature termination codon (PTC). In vivo, PTC-containing transcripts might be targeted for nonsense-mediated decay (NMD). NMD efficiency is known to vary greatly between transcripts, tissues and individuals and it is possible that differences in survival of PTC-containing transcripts partially explain the striking phenotypic variability that characterizes ZIC3-associated congenital defects. For example, the PTC-containing transcripts might encode a C-terminally truncated protein that retains partial function or that dominantly interferes with other ZIC family members. Here we describe the katun (Ka) mouse mutant, which harbours a mutation in the Zic3 gene that results in a PTC. At the time of axis formation there is no discernible decrease in this PTC-containing transcript in vivo, indicating that the mammalian Zic3 transcript is relatively insensitive to NMD, prompting the need to re-examine the molecular function of the truncated proteins predicted from human studies and to determine whether the N-terminal portion of ZIC3 possesses dominant-negative capabilities. A combination of in vitro studies and analysis of the Ka phenotype indicate it is a null allele of Zic3 and that the N-terminal portion of ZIC3 does not encode a dominant-negative molecule. Heterotaxy in patients with PTC-containing ZIC3 transcripts probably arises due to loss of ZIC3 function alone.
- Received January 2, 2013.
- Accepted February 19, 2013.
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