Flies with mutations in the single Drosophila Adar gene encoding an RNA editing enzyme involved in editing 4 of all transcripts have severe locomotion defects and develop age-dependent neurodegeneration. Vertebrates have two ADAR-editing enzymes that are catalytically active; ADAR1 and ADAR2. We show that human ADAR2 rescues Drosophila Adar mutant phenotypes. Neither the short nuclear ADAR1p110 isoform nor the longer interferon-inducible cytoplasmic ADAR1p150 isoform rescue walking defects efficiently, nor do they correctly edit specific sites in Drosophila transcripts. Surprisingly, human ADAR1p110 does suppress age-dependent neurodegeneration in Drosophila Adar mutants whereas ADAR1p150 does not. The single Drosophila Adar gene was previously assumed to represent an evolutionary ancestor of the multiple vertebrate ADARs. The strong functional similarity of human ADAR2 and Drosophila Adar suggests rather that these are true orthologs. By a combination of direct cloning and searching new invertebrate genome sequences we show that distinct ADAR1 and ADAR2 genes were present very early in the Metazoan lineage, both occurring before the split between the Bilateria and Cnidarians. The ADAR1 gene has been lost several times, including during the evolution of insects and crustacea. These data complement our rescue results, supporting the idea that ADAR1 and ADAR2 have evolved highly conserved, distinct functions.
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