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Hum Mol Genet. 2010 Aug 1;19(15):2958-73. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddq201. Epub 2010 May 11.

Evolution of alternative splicing in primate brain transcriptomes.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.


Alternative splicing is a predominant form of gene regulation in higher eukaryotes. The evolution of alternative splicing provides an important mechanism for the acquisition of novel gene functions. In this work, we carried out a genome-wide phylogenetic survey of lineage-specific splicing patterns in the primate brain, via high-density exon junction array profiling of brain transcriptomes of humans, chimpanzees and rhesus macaques. We identified 509 genes showing splicing differences among these species. RT-PCR analysis of 40 exons confirmed the predicted splicing evolution of 33 exons. Of these 33 exons, outgroup analysis using rhesus macaques confirmed 13 exons with human-specific increase or decrease in transcript inclusion levels after humans diverged from chimpanzees. Some of the human-specific brain splicing patterns disrupt domains critical for protein-protein interactions, and some modulate translational efficiency of their host genes. Strikingly, for exons showing splicing differences across species, we observed a significant increase in the rate of silent substitutions within exons, coupled with accelerated sequence divergence in flanking introns. This indicates that evolution of cis-regulatory signals is a major contributor to the emergence of human-specific splicing patterns. In one gene (MAGOH), using minigene reporter assays, we demonstrated that the combination of two human-specific cis-sequence changes created its human-specific splicing pattern. Together, our data reveal widespread human-specific changes of alternative splicing in the brain and suggest an important role of splicing in the evolution of neuronal gene regulation and functions.

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