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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Dec 26;103(52):19719-24. Epub 2006 Dec 15.

Identification of long-range regulatory elements in the protocadherin-alpha gene cluster.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, 7 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


The clustered protocadherins (Pcdh) are encoded by three closely linked gene clusters (Pcdh-alpha, -beta, and -gamma) that span nearly 1 million base pairs of DNA. The Pcdh-alpha gene cluster encodes a family of 14 distinct cadherin-like cell surface proteins that are expressed in neurons and are present at synaptic junctions. Individual Pcdh-alpha mRNAs are assembled from one of 14 "variable" (V) exons and three "constant" exons in a process that involves both differential promoter activation and alternative pre-mRNA splicing. In individual neurons, only one (and rarely two) of the Pcdh alpha1-12 promoters is independently and randomly activated on each chromosome. Thus, in most cells, this unusual form of monoallelic expression leads to the expression of two different Pcdh-alpha 1-12 V exons, one from each chromosome. The two remaining V exons in the cluster (Pcdh-alphaC1 and alphaC2) are expressed biallelically in every neuron. The mechanisms that underlie promoter choice and monoallelic expression in the Pcdh-alpha gene cluster are not understood. Here we report the identification of two long-range cis-regulatory elements in the Pcdh-alpha gene cluster, HS5-1 and HS7. We show that HS5-1 is required for maximal levels of expression from the Pcdh alpha1-12 and alphaC1 promoters, but not the Pcdh-alphaC2 promoter. The nearly cluster-wide requirement of the HS5-1 element is consistent with the possibility that the monoallelic expression of Pcdh-alpha V exons is a consequence of competition between individual V exon promoters for the two regulatory elements.

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