We report here the isolation of the 5′ end and the promoter region of the gene for chicken cartilage link protein, and demonstrate extensive heterogeneity of the leader sequence arising from differential utilization of multiple splice sites within the 5′-most exon. The 500-base pairs (bp) exon 1 consists of solely untranslated sequence and is followed by an Intron >33 kilobase pairs (kb). Together, the five exons predict a gene size longer than 100 kb. Multiple transcription initiation sites were mapped 34, 46, 56, 66 and 76 bp downstream of a TATA-like motif. Sequence analysis revealed that in addition to the nonspliced variant, multiple mRNA species were generated by alternative splicing resulting in the exclusion of 92, 166, 170, 174 and 263 nucleotides (nt), respectively, from exon 1. Polymerase chain reaction confirmed the existence of various splice forms, and showed cell type- and developmental stage-specific expression for one group of them. Secondary structure predictions indicated that the leaders of the splice forms could form stable hairpin structures with different free energies of formation (up to δG=-110 kcal/mol), suggesting translational control. The splice variant detected in the largest amount had the least stable predicted hairpin (δG= -31.7 kcal/mol).
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