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J Biol Chem. 1991 Apr 15;266(11):7248-55.

Molecular genetics of human erythrocyte MiIII and MiVI glycophorins. Use of a pseudoexon in construction of two delta-alpha-delta hybrid genes resulting in antigenic diversification.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10461.


Human glycophorins alpha and delta (or A and B) specify the MNSs blood group antigens; they exhibit considerable structural variation among populations. We show that two variant phenotypes of Miltenberger class III and VI are encoded by similar hybrid glycophorin genes in a delta-alpha-delta arrangement. Restriction mapping identified altered fragments unique to the MiIII and MiVI genes. Genomic sequences spanning exons 2 to 4 of the two genes were obtained by allele-specific polymerase chain reaction. Restriction analysis and direct sequencing of the amplified DNA revealed that MiIII and MiVI genes are identical to the delta gene except that, in both, an internal segment of the delta gene has been replaced by its homologous counterpart of the alpha gene, resulting in a delta-alpha-delta hybrid structure. In the process of hybrid formation a portion of alpha exon 3 and intron 3, that carries a functional 5' splicing signal, has been fused to an exon-like sequence in the delta gene that retains a 3' but lacks a 5' splicing signal. These rearrangements created a composite exon resulting in the expression of the ordinarily unexpressed delta gene sequence and conferred the hybrid proteins with new antigenic specificities. The expression of this sequence in MiIII glycophorin is directly demonstrated by protein sequencing. MiIII and MiVI genes differ in the location of upstream (delta-alpha) and downstream (alpha-delta) breakpoints and in the length of sequence replacement. The delta-alpha breakpoints of the two genes occur at different locations within a 35-base pair sequence of exon 3 that is clustered with multiple inverted repeats, whereas the alpha-delta breakpoints reside downstream in two dissimilar blocks of sequences of intron 3. The minimal length of the delta gene sequence that has been replaced by the alpha gene is 55 base pairs in the MiIII gene and 131 base pairs in the MiVI gene. Such segmental DNA transfers may have proceeded unidirectionally through the mechanisms of gene conversion.

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