RNA localization is a conserved mechanism of establishing cell polarity. Vg1 mRNA localizes to the vegetal pole of Xenopus laevis oocytes and acts to spatially restrict gene expression of Vg1 protein. Tight control of Vg1 distribution in this manner is required for proper germ layer specification in the developing embryo. RNA sequence elements in the 3' UTR of the mRNA, the Vg1 localization element (VLE) are required and sufficient to direct transport. To study the recognition and transport of Vg1 mRNA in vivo, we have developed an imaging technique that allows extensive analysis of trans-factor directed transport mechanisms via a simple visual readout.
To visualize RNA localization, we synthesize fluorescently labeled VLE RNA and microinject this transcript into individual oocytes. After oocyte culture to allow transport of the injected RNA, oocytes are fixed and dehydrated prior to imaging by confocal microscopy. Visualization of mRNA localization patterns provides a readout for monitoring the complete pathway of RNA transport and for identifying roles in directing RNA transport for cis-acting elements within the transcript and trans-acting factors that bind to the VLE (Lewis et al., 2008, Messitt et al., 2008). We have extended this technique through co-localization with additional RNAs and proteins (Gagnon and Mowry, 2009, Messitt et al., 2008), and in combination with disruption of motor proteins and the cytoskeleton (Messitt et al., 2008) to probe mechanisms underlying mRNA localization.