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Cell. 1993 May 7;73(3):521-32.

Operons in C. elegans: polycistronic mRNA precursors are processed by trans-splicing of SL2 to downstream coding regions.

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Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington 47405.


The mRNAs of six C. elegans genes are known to be trans-spliced to SL2. We report here that a similarly oriented gene is located 100-300 bp upstream of each. We present evidence that the genes in these clusters are cotranscribed and downstream mRNAs are formed by cleavage at the polyadenylation site and trans-splicing. From one three-gene cluster we isolated cDNA clones representing both polycistronic RNAs and mRNAs polyadenylated at the free 3' end created by trans-splicing, suggesting that polycistronic RNAs can be processed by trans-splicing. Several experiments indicate that SL2 trans-splicing is a consequence of a gene's downstream location in an operon. In particular, when an SL1-accepting gene was moved to a downstream location, its mRNA was trans-spliced largely to SL2. The possible regulatory significance of cotranscription of C. elegans genes is discussed.

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