Are all of the human exons alternatively spliced?

Alternative mRNA splicing (AS) is a major mechanism for increasing regulatory complexity. A key concept in AS is the distinction between alternatively and constitutively spliced exons (ASEs and CSEs, respectively). ASEs and CSEs have been reported to be differentially regulated, and to have distinct biological properties. However, the recent flood of RNA-sequencing data has obscured the boundary between ASEs and CSEs. Researchers are beginning to question whether ‘authentic CSEs’ do exist, and whether the ASE/CSE distinction is biologically invalid.

Here, Feng-Chi Chen with the National Health Research Institutes of Taiwan examines the influences of increasing transcriptome data on the human ASE/CSE classification and our past understanding of the properties of these two types of exons. Interestingly, although the percentage of human ASEs has increased dramatically in recent years, the overall distinction between ASEs and CSEs remains valid. For example, CSEs are longer, evolve more slowly, and less frequently correspond to intrinsically disordered protein regions than ASEs. In addition, only a relatively small number of human genes have their transcripts composed entirely of ASEs despite the large amount of high-throughput transcriptome information. Therefore, the ‘backbone’ concept of AS, in which CSEs constitute the invariant part and ASEs the flexible part of the transcript, appears to be generally true despite the increasing percentage of ASEs in the human exome.

alternative splicing


  • Chen FC. (2013) Are all of the human exons alternatively spliced? Brief Bioinform [Epub ahead of print]. [abstract]
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