Odronitz F, Kollmar M
BMC Molecular Biology 9, 21 (2008)
BACKGROUND: Alternative splicing of mutually exclusive exons is an important mechanism for increasing protein diversity in eukaryotes. The insect Mhc (myosin heavy chain) gene produces all different muscle myosins as a result of alternative splicing in contrast to most other organisms of the Metazoa lineage, that have a family of muscle genes with each gene coding for a protein specialized for a functional niche. RESULTS: The muscle myosin heavy chain genes of 22 species of the Arthropoda ranging from the waterflea to wasp and Drosophila have been annotated. The analysis of the gene structures allowed the reconstruction of an ancient muscle myosin heavy chain gene and showed that during evolution of the arthropods introns have mainly been lost in these genes although intron gain might have happened in a few cases. Surprisingly, the genome of Aedes aegypti contains another and that of Culex pipiens quinquefasciatus two further muscle myosin heavy chain genes, called Mhc3 and Mhc4, that contain only one variant of the corresponding alternative exons of the Mhc1 gene. Mhc3 transcription in Aedes aegypti is documented by EST data. Mhc3 and Mhc4 inserted in the Aedes and Culex genomes either by gene duplication followed by the loss of all but one variant of the alternative exons, or by incorporation of a transcript of which all other variants have been spliced out retaining the exon-intron structure. The second and more likely possibility represents a new type of a 'partially' processed pseudogene. CONCLUSION: Based on the comparative genomic analysis of the alternatively spliced arthropod muscle myosin heavy chain genes we propose that the splicing process operates sequentially on the transcript. The process consists of the splicing of the mutually exclusive exons until one exon out of the cluster remains while retaining surrounding intronic sequence. In a second step splicing of introns takes place. A related mechanism could be responsible for the splicing of other genes containing mutually exclusive exons.