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RNA. 2010 Oct;16(10):2014-22. doi: 10.1261/rna.2127910. Epub 2010 Aug 18.

The adaptive significance of unproductive alternative splicing in primates.

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1
Department of Biological Sciences, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. adonis.skandalis@brocku.ca

Abstract

Alternative gene splicing is pervasive in metazoa, particularly in humans, where the majority of genes generate splice variant transcripts. Characterizing the biological significance of alternative transcripts is methodologically difficult since it is impractical to assess thousands of splice variants as to whether they actually encode proteins, whether these proteins are functional, or whether transcripts have a function independent of protein synthesis. Consequently, to elucidate the functional significance of splice variants and to investigate mechanisms underlying the fidelity of mRNA splicing, we used an indirect approach based on analyzing the evolutionary conservation of splice variants among species. Using DNA polymerase β as an indicator locus, we cloned and characterized the types and frequencies of transcripts generated in primary cell lines of five primate species. Overall, we found that in addition to the canonical DNA polymerase β transcript, there were 25 alternative transcripts generated, most containing premature terminating codons. We used a statistical method borrowed from community ecology to show that there is significant diversity and little conservation in alternative splicing patterns among species, despite high sequence similarity in the underlying genomic (exonic) sequences. However, the frequency of alternative splicing at this locus correlates well with life history parameters such as the maximal longevity of each species, indicating that the alternative splicing of unproductive splice variants may have adaptive significance, even if the specific RNA transcripts themselves have no function. These results demonstrate the validity of the phylogenetic conservation approach in elucidating the biological significance of alternative splicing.

PMID:
20719917
PMCID:
PMC2941109
DOI:
10.1261/rna.2127910
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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