Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027.
Using a strategy based on reverse transcription and the polymerase chain reaction, we have determined the order of splicing of the four introns of the endogenous adenine phosphoribosyltransferase (aprt) gene in Chinese hamster ovary cells. The method involves a pairwise comparison of molecules that retain one intron and have either retained or spliced another intron(s). A highly preferred order of removal was found: intron 3 > 2 > 4 = 1. This order did not represent a linear progression from one end of the transcript to the other, nor did it correlate with the conformity of the splice site sequences to the consensus sequences or to the calculated energy of duplex formation with U1 small nuclear RNA. By using actinomycin D to inhibit RNA synthesis, the in vivo rate of the first step in splicing was estimated for all four introns; a half-life of 6 min was found for introns 2, 3, and 4. Intron 1 was spliced more slowly, with a 12-min half-life. A substantial amount of RNA that retained intron 1 as the sole intron was exported to the cytoplasm. In the course of these experiments, we also determined that intron 3, but not intron 4, is spliced before 3'-end formation is complete, probably on nascent transcripts. This result is consistent with the idea that polyadenylation is required for splicing of the 3'-most intron. We applied a similar strategy to determine the last intron to be spliced in a very large transcript, that of the endogenous dihydrofolate reductase (dhfr) gene in Chinese hamster ovary cells (25 kb). Here again, intron 1 was the last intron to be spliced.
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