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Background Disease-causing mutations that activate transposon-derived exons without creating a new splice-site consensus have been reported rarely, but they provided unique insights into our understanding of structural motifs required for inclusion of intronic sequences in mature transcripts. Methods We employ a combination of experimental and computational techniques to characterize the first de novo bipartite exon activation in genetic disease. Results The exon originated from two separate introns as a result of an in-frame COL4A5 deletion associated with a typical Alport syndrome. The deletion encompassed exons 38 through 41 and activated a cryptic 3' and 5' splice site that were derived from intron 37 and intron 41, respectively. The deletion breakpoint was in the middle of the new exon, with considerable complementarity between the two exonic parts, potentially bringing the cryptic 3' and 5' splice site into proximity. The 3' splice site, polypyrimidine tract and the branch site of the new exon were derived from an inactive, 5' truncated LINE-1 retrotransposon. This ancient LINE-1 copy sustained a series of mutations that created the highly conserved AG dinucleotide at the 3' splice site early in primate development. The exon was fully included in mature transcripts and introduced a stop codon in the shortened COL4A5 mRNA, illustrating pitfalls of inferring disease severity from DNA mutation alone. Conclusion These results expand the repertoire of mutational mechanisms that alter RNA processing in genetic disease and illustrate the extraordinary versatility of transposed elements in shaping the new exon-intron structure and the phenotypic variability.


  • Molecular Genetics & Genomic Medicine

    Molecular Genetics & Genomic Medicine 5(3), 287-294, 2017-05



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