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Annu Rev Genet. 1985;19:253-72.

Processed pseudogenes: characteristics and evolution.


The processed pseudogenes reported to date fall into three categories: those that are a complete copy of the mRNA transcribed from the functional gene, those that are only a partial copy of the corresponding mRNA, and those that contain sequences in addition to those expected to be present in the mRNA. The general structural characteristics of these processed pseudogenes include the complete lack of intervening sequences found in the functional counterparts, a poly A tract at the 3' end, and direct repeats flanking the pseudogene sequence. In all the cases studied, these pseudogenes have been found to be on a different chromosome from their functional counterpart. These characteristics have led investigators to suggest that an RNA intermediate, in many cases the mRNA of the functional gene, is involved in the production of these pseudogenes. The mechanism by which processed pseudogenes arose involves the integration of the mRNA, or its cDNA copy, into a staggered chromosome break, followed by DNA synthesis and repair. I suggest that all the transcripts that gave rise to these pseudogenes were actually produced in the germ line cell. The transcripts that gave rise to the processed pseudogenes that are direct copies of the corresponding mRNA resulted from RNA polymerase II transcription of the functional counterpart. Pseudogenes that are not a direct copy of the corresponding mRNA may have resulted from RNA polymerase III transcription. If this is indeed the case, one need not postulate the involvement of retroviruses to explain the presence of processed pseudogenes corresponding to genes that are not expressed in the germ line. Following the integration event, processed pseudogenes can no longer be transcribed to produce the functional mRNA from which they arose. This inability to be transcribed by RNA polymerase II is not surprising considering that processed pseudogenes seem to be randomly integrated into the genome. Therefore, integration of a processed pseudogene such that RNA polymerase II transcriptional promoters are correctly positioned 5' to the resultant pseudogene is an unlikely event. The presence of processed pseudogenes seems peculiar to mammals. In fact, evolutionary studies indicate that processed pseudogenes are of relatively recent origin. In fact, at least one processed pseudogene, the human DHFR psi 1, has been formed so recently that it is polymorphic.

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