Alternative splicing is a broad and evolutionarily conserved mechanism to diversify gene expression and functionality. The process relies on RNA binding proteins (RBPs) to recognize and bind target sequences in pre-mRNAs, which allows for the inclusion or skipping of various alternative exons. One recently discovered family of RBPs is the epithelial splicing regulatory proteins (ESRP) 1 and 2. Here, we discuss the structure and physiological function of the ESRPs in a variety of contexts. We emphasize the current understanding of their splicing activities, using the classic example of fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 mutually exclusive splicing. We also describe the mechanistic roles of ESRPs in coordinating the splicing and functional output of key signaling pathways that support the maintenance of, or shift between, epithelial and mesenchymal cell states. In particular, we highlight their functions in the development of mammalian limbs, the inner ear, and craniofacial structure while discussing the genetic and biochemical evidence that showcases their conserved roles in tissue regeneration, disease, and cancer pathogenesis.
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