RNA helicases are implicated in most cellular RNA-dependent events. In eukaryotes however, only few have been functionally characterized. Upf1 is a RNA helicase essential for nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD). Here, using magnetic tweezers and bulk assays, we observe that human Upf1 is able to translocate slowly over long single-stranded nucleic acids with a processivity >10 kb. Upf1 efficiently translocates through double-stranded structures and protein-bound sequences, demonstrating that Upf1 is an efficient ribonucleoprotein complex remodeler. Our observation of processive unwinding by an eukaryotic RNA helicase reveals that Upf1, once recruited onto NMD mRNA targets, can scan the entire transcript to irreversibly remodel the mRNP, facilitating its degradation by the NMD machinery.
Upf1 is a multifunctional helicase involved in various DNA- and RNA-related processes, including nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD). Here the authors demonstrate that Upf1 is a highly processive ribonucleoprotein complex remodeler—a capability likely important for Upf1's NMD function.