Transcriptome compartmentalization by the nuclear membrane provides both stochastic and functional buffering of transcript activity in the cytoplasm, and has recently been implicated in neurodegenerative disease processes. Although many mechanisms regulating transcript compartmentalization are also prevalent in brain development, the extent to which subcellular localization differs as the brain matures has yet to be addressed. To characterize the nuclear and cytoplasmic transcriptomes during brain development, we sequenced both RNA fractions from homogenate prenatal and adult human postmortem cortex using poly(A)+ and Ribo-Zero library preparation methods. We find that while many genes are differentially expressed by fraction and developmental expression changes are similarly detectable in nuclear and cytoplasmic RNA, the compartmented transcriptomes become more distinct as the brain matures, perhaps reflecting increased utilization of nuclear retention as a regulatory strategy in adult brain. We examined potential mechanisms of this developmental divergence including alternative splicing, RNA editing, nuclear pore composition, RNA-binding protein motif enrichment, and RNA secondary structure. Intron retention is associated with greater nuclear abundance in a subset of transcripts, as is enrichment for several splicing factor binding motifs. Finally, we examined disease association with fraction-regulated gene sets and found nuclear-enriched genes were also preferentially enriched in gene sets associated with neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorders. These results suggest that although gene-level expression is globally comparable between fractions, nuclear retention of transcripts may play an underappreciated role in developmental regulation of gene expression in brain, particularly in genes whose dysregulation is related to neuropsychiatric disorders.
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