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J Mol Evol. 2006 Feb;62(2):121-31. Epub 2006 Jan 13.

The mutually exclusive flip and flop exons of AMPA receptor genes were derived from an intragenic duplication in the vertebrate lineage.

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  • 1Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Department of Life Science, National Tsing Hua University, 101, Sec 2, Kang Fu Road, Hsinchu, Taiwan, 30043, Republic of China.


The incomplete correlation between the organismal complexities and the number of genes among eukaryotic organisms can be partially explained by multiple protein products of a gene created by alternative splicing. One type of alternative splicing involves alternative selection of mutually exclusive exons and creates protein products with substitution of one segment of the amino acid sequence for another. To elucidate the evolution of the mutually exclusive 115-bp exons, designated flip and flop, of vertebrate AMPA receptor genes, the gene structures of chordate (tunicate, cephalochordate, and vertebrate) and protostome (Drosophila and Caenorhabditis elegans) AMPA receptor subunits were compared. Phylogenetic analysis supports that the vertebrate flip and flop exons evolved from a common sequence. Flip and flop exons exist in all vertebrate AMPA receptor genes but only one 115-bp exon is present in the genes of tunicates and cephalochordates, suggesting that the exon duplication event occurred at the ancestral vertebrate AMPA receptor gene after the separation of vertebrates from primitive chordates. The structures of animal AMPA receptor genes also suggest that an intron insertion to separate the primordial flip/flop exon from the M4-coding exon occurred before the exon duplication event and probably at the chordate lineage.

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