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Nucleic Acids Res. 2001 Jun 15;29(12):2581-93.

Human GC-AG alternative intron isoforms with weak donor sites show enhanced consensus at acceptor exon positions.

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European Bioinformatics Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton, Cambridgeshire CB10 1SD, UK and University of Queensland, St Lucia, 4072, Australia.


It has been previously observed that the intrinsically weak variant GC donor sites, in order to be recognized by the U2-type spliceosome, possess strong consensus sequences maximized for base pair formation with U1 and U5/U6 snRNAs. However, variability in signal strength is a fundamental mechanism for splice site selection in alternative splicing. Here we report human alternative GC-AG introns (for the first time from any species), and show that while constitutive GC-AG introns do possess strong signals at their donor sites, a large subset of alternative GC-AG introns possess weak consensus sequences at their donor sites. Surprisingly, this subset of alternative isoforms shows strong consensus at acceptor exon positions 1 and 2. The improved consensus at the acceptor exon can facilitate a strong interaction with U5 snRNA, which tethers the two exons for ligation during the second step of splicing. Further, these isoforms nearly always possess alternative acceptor sites and exhibit particularly weak polypyrimidine tracts characteristic of AG-dependent introns. The acceptor exon nucleotides are part of the consensus required for the U2AF(35)-mediated recognition of AG in such introns. Such improved consensus at acceptor exons is not found in either normal or alternative GT-AG introns having weak donor sites or weak polypyrimidine tracts. The changes probably reflect mechanisms that allow GC-AG alternative intron isoforms to cope with two conflicting requirements, namely an apparent need for differential splice strength to direct the choice of alternative sites and a need for improved donor signals to compensate for the central mismatch base pair (C-A) in the RNA duplex of U1 snRNA and the pre-mRNA. The other important findings include (i) one in every twenty alternative introns is a GC-AG intron, and (ii) three of every five observed GC-AG introns are alternative isoforms.

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