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1.  Why eukaryotic cells use introns to enhance gene expression: Splicing reduces transcription-associated mutagenesis by inhibiting topoisomerase I cutting activity 
Biology Direct  2011;6:24.
Background
The costs and benefits of spliceosomal introns in eukaryotes have not been established. One recognized effect of intron splicing is its known enhancement of gene expression. However, the mechanism regulating such splicing-mediated expression enhancement has not been defined. Previous studies have shown that intron splicing is a time-consuming process, indicating that splicing may not reduce the time required for transcription and processing of spliced pre-mRNA molecules; rather, it might facilitate the later rounds of transcription. Because the densities of active RNA polymerase II on most genes are less than one molecule per gene, direct interactions between the splicing apparatus and transcriptional complexes (from the later rounds of transcription) are infrequent, and thus unlikely to account for splicing-mediated gene expression enhancement.
Presentation of the hypothesis
The serine/arginine-rich protein SF2/ASF can inhibit the DNA topoisomerase I activity that removes negative supercoiling of DNA generated by transcription. Consequently, splicing could make genes more receptive to RNA polymerase II during the later rounds of transcription, and thus affect the frequency of gene transcription. Compared with the transcriptional enhancement mediated by strong promoters, intron-containing genes experience a lower frequency of cut-and-paste processes. The cleavage and religation activity of DNA strands by DNA topoisomerase I was recently shown to account for transcription-associated mutagenesis. Therefore, intron-mediated enhancement of gene expression could reduce transcription-associated genome instability.
Testing the hypothesis
Experimentally test whether transcription-associated mutagenesis is lower in intron-containing genes than in intronless genes. Use bioinformatic analysis to check whether exons flanking lost introns have higher frequencies of short deletions.
Implications of the hypothesis
The mechanism of intron-mediated enhancement proposed here may also explain the positive correlation observed between intron size and gene expression levels in unicellular organisms, and the greater number of intron containing genes in higher organisms.
Reviewers
This article was reviewed by Dr Arcady Mushegian, Dr Igor B Rogozin (nominated by Dr I King Jordan) and Dr Alexey S Kondrashov. For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewer's Reports section.
doi:10.1186/1745-6150-6-24
PMCID: PMC3118952  PMID: 21592350
2.  Exon definition as a potential negative force against intron losses in evolution 
Biology Direct  2008;3:46.
Background
Previous studies have indicated that the wide variation in intron density (the number of introns per gene) among different eukaryotes largely reflects varying degrees of intron loss during evolution. The most popular model, which suggests that organisms lose introns through a mechanism in which reverse-transcribed cDNA recombines with the genomic DNA, concerns only one mutational force.
Hypothesis
Using exons as the units of splicing-site recognition, exon definition constrains the length of exons. An intron-loss event results in fusion of flanking exons and thus a larger exon. The large size of the newborn exon may cause splicing errors, i.e., exon skipping, if the splicing of pre-mRNAs is initiated by exon definition. By contrast, if the splicing of pre-mRNAs is initiated by intron definition, intron loss does not matter. Exon definition may thus be a selective force against intron loss. An organism with a high frequency of exon definition is expected to experience a low rate of intron loss throughout evolution and have a high density of spliceosomal introns.
Conclusion
The majority of spliceosomal introns in vertebrates may be maintained during evolution not because of potential functions, but because of their splicing mechanism (i.e., exon definition). Further research is required to determine whether exon definition is a negative force in maintaining the high intron density of vertebrates.
Reviewers
This article was reviewed by Dr. Scott W. Roy (nominated by Dr. John Logsdon), Dr. Eugene V. Koonin, and Dr. Igor B. Rogozin (nominated by Dr. Mikhail Gelfand). For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' comments section.
doi:10.1186/1745-6150-3-46
PMCID: PMC2614967  PMID: 19014515
3.  Protecting exons from deleterious R-loops: a potential advantage of having introns 
Biology Direct  2007;2:11.
Background
Accumulating evidence indicates that the nascent RNA can invade and pair with one strand of DNA, forming an R-loop structure that threatens the stability of the genome. In addition, the cost and benefit of introns are still in debate.
Results
At least three factors are likely required for the R-loop formation: 1) sequence complementarity between the nascent RNA and the target DNA, 2) spatial juxtaposition between the nascent RNA and the template DNA, and 3) accessibility of the template DNA and the nascent RNA. The removal of introns from pre-mRNA reduces the complementarity between RNA and the template DNA and avoids the spatial juxtaposition between the nascent RNA and the template DNA. In addition, the secondary structures of group I and group II introns may act as spatial obstacles for the formation of R-loops between nearby exons and the genomic DNA.
Conclusion
Organisms may benefit from introns by avoiding deleterious R-loops. The potential contribution of this benefit in driving intron evolution is discussed. I propose that additional RNA polymerases may inhibit R-loop formation between preceding nascent RNA and the template DNA. This idea leads to a testable prediction: intermittently transcribed genes and genes with frequently prolonged transcription should have higher intron density.
Reviewers
This article was reviewed by Dr. Eugene V. Koonin, Dr. Alexei Fedorov (nominated by Dr. Laura F Landweber), and Dr. Scott W. Roy (nominated by Dr. Arcady Mushegian).
doi:10.1186/1745-6150-2-11
PMCID: PMC1863416  PMID: 17459149

Results 1-3 (3)