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Nat Genet. 2004 Mar;36(3):240-6. Epub 2004 Feb 1.

Stochastic yet biased expression of multiple Dscam splice variants by individual cells.

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  • 1Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Nine Cambridge Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142, USA.


The Drosophila melanogaster gene Dscam is essential for axon guidance and has 38,016 possible alternative splice forms. This diversity can potentially be used to distinguish cells. We analyzed the Dscam mRNA isoforms expressed by different cell types and individual cells. The choice of splice variants expressed is regulated both spatially and temporally. Different subtypes of photoreceptors express broad yet distinctive spectra of Dscam isoforms. Single-cell RT-PCR documented that individual cells express several different Dscam isoforms and allowed an estimation of the diversity that is present. For example, we estimate that each R3/R4 photoreceptor cell expresses 14-50 distinct mRNAs chosen from the spectrum of thousands of splice variants distinctive of its cell type. Thus, the Dscam repertoire of each cell is different from those of its neighbors, providing a potential mechanism for generating unique cell identity in the nervous system and elsewhere.

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