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Gene. 2001 Jan 24;263(1-2):17-29.

The dystrophin / utrophin homologues in Drosophila and in sea urchin.

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Department of Molecular Cell Biology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


The gene which is defective in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is the largest known gene containing at least 79 introns, some of which are extremely large. The product of the gene in muscle, dystrophin, is a 427 kDa protein. The same gene encodes at least two additional non-muscle full length dystrophin isoforms transcribed from different promoters located in the 5'-end region of the gene, and four smaller proteins transcribed from internal promoters located further downstream, and lack important domains of dystrophin. Several other genes, encoding evolutionarily related proteins, have been identified. To study the evolution of the DMD gene and the significance of its various products, we have searched for genes encoding dystrophin-like proteins in sea urchin and in Drosophila. We previously reported on the characterization of a sea urchin gene encoding a protein which is an evolutionary homologue of Dp116, one of the small products of the mammalian DMD gene, and on the partial sequencing of a large product of the same gene. Here we describe the full-length product which shows strong structural similarity and sequence identity to human dystrophin and utrophin. We also describe a Drosophila gene closely related to the human dystrophin gene. Like the human gene, the Drosophila gene encodes at least three isoforms of full length dystrophin-like proteins (dmDLP1, dmDLP2 and dmDLP3,), regulated by different promoters located at the 5' end of the gene, and a smaller product regulated by an internal promoter (dmDp186). As in mammals, dmDp186 and the dmDLPs share the same C-terminal and cysteine-rich domains which are very similar to the corresponding domains in human dystrophin and utrophin. In addition, dmDp186 contains four of the spectrin-like repeats of the dmDLPs and a unique N-terminal region of 512 amino acids encoded by a single exon. The full length products and the small product have distinct patterns of expression. Thus, the complex structure of the dystrophin gene, encoding several large dystrophin-like isoforms and smaller truncated products with different patterns of expression, existed before the divergence between the protostomes and deuterostomes. The conservation of this gene structure in such distantly related organisms, points to important distinct functions of the multiple products.

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