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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 May 13;94(10):5177-82.

Molecular origin of the mosaic sequence arrangements of higher primate alpha-globin duplication units.

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  • 1Section of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


The human adult alpha-globin locus consists of three pairs of homology blocks (X, Y, and Z) interspersed with three nonhomology blocks (I, II, and III), and three Alu family repeats, Alu1, Alu2, and Alu3. It has been suggested that an ancient primate alpha-globin-containing unit was ancestral to the X, Y, and Z and the Alu1/Alu2 repeats. However, the evolutionary origin of the three nonhomologous blocks has remained obscure. We have now analyzed the sequence organization of the entire adult alpha-globin locus of gibbon (Hylobates lar). DNA segments homologous to human block I occur in both duplication units of the gibbon alpha-globin locus. Detailed interspecies sequence comparisons suggest that nonhomologous blocks I and II, as well as another sequence, IV, were all part of the ancestral alpha-globin-containing unit prior to its tandem duplication. However, sometime thereafter, block I was deleted from the human alpha1-globin-containing unit, and block II was also deleted from the alpha2-globin-containing unit in both human and gibbon. These were probably independent events both mediated by independent illegitimate recombination processes. Interestingly, the end points of these deletions coincide with potential insertion sites of Alu family repeats. These results suggest that the shaping of DNA segments in eukaryotic genomes involved the retroposition of repetitive DNA elements in conjunction with simple DNA recombination processes.

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