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J Mol Biol. 1989 Oct 20;209(4):549-59.

Avian keratin genes. I. A molecular analysis of the structure and expression of a group of feather keratin genes.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of Adelaide, South Australia.


The nucleotide sequence of the four complete chicken feather keratin genes A to D contained in the previously isolated recombinant lambda CFK1 has been determined. All four genes have a very similar structure; each gene encodes a polypeptide of 97 amino acid residues and contains an intron in the 5' non-coding region, 37 base-pairs from the cap site. Comparison of the previously determined feather keratin gene C sequence to genes A, B and D indicates that a high level of gene correction has occurred in the protein coding and 5' non-coding regions, which show more than 90% homology, whereas the intron and 3' non-coding regions are by contrast poorly conserved with one or two exceptions. The dramatic conservation of the 5' non-coding region between the feather keratin sequences and an unrelated but co-expressed gene encoding a histidine-rich protein suggests that this segment may play an important role in transcriptional regulation. In addition, both gene types contain an identically positioned intron in the 5' non-coding region. Northern blots performed using gene-specific probes show that the four characterized genes A to D plus gene E, which is partially contained in the recombinant lambda CFK1, are all expressed in feather tissue from 14-day old chick embryos. In addition, we report that a scale keratin gene (originally isolated from a scale complementary DNA library) is expressed at a low level in the embryonic feather.

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