Alternative poly(A) site selection in complex transcription units: means to an end?


Many genes have been described and characterized which result in alternative polyadenylation site use at the 3'-end of their mRNAs based on the cellular environment. In this survey and summary article 95 genes are discussed in which alternative polyadenylation is a consequence of tandem arrays of poly(A) signals within a single 3'-untranslated region. An additional 31 genes are described in which polyadenylation at a promoter-proximal site competes with a splicing reaction to influence expression of multiple mRNAs. Some have a composite internal/terminal exon which can be differentially processed. Others contain alternative 3'-terminal exons, the first of which can be skipped in some cells. In some cases the mRNAs formed from these three classes of genes are differentially processed from the primary transcript during the cell cycle or in a tissue-specific or developmentally specific pattern. Immunoglobulin heavy chain genes have composite exons; regulated production of two different Ig mRNAs has been shown to involve B cell stage-specific changes in trans -acting factors involved in formation of the active polyadenylation complex. Changes in the activity of some of these same factors occur during viral infection and take-over of the cellular machinery, suggesting the potential applicability of at least some aspects of the Ig model. The differential expression of a number of genes that undergo alternative poly(A) site choice or polyadenylation/splicing competition could be regulated at the level of amounts and activities of either generic or tissue-specific polyadenylation factors and/or splicing factors.

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