Expression of the unique NCAM VASE exon is independently regulated in distinct tissues during development

Stephen J. Small, Richard Akeson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During development of the rat central nervous system, neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) mRNAs containing in the extracellular domain a 30-bp alternative exon, here named VASE, replace RNAs that lack this exon. The presence of this alternative exon between previously described exons 7 and 8 changes the predicted loop structure of the derived polypeptide from one resembling an immunoglobulin constant region domain to one resembling an immunoglobulin variable domain. This change could have significant effects on NCAM polypeptide function and cell-cell interaction. In this report we test multiple rat tissues for the presence of additional alternative exons at this position and also examine the regulation of splicing of the previously described exon. To sensitively examine alternative splicing, polymerase chain reactions (PCRs) with primers flanking the exon 7/exon 8 alternative splicing site were performed. Four categories of RNA samples were tested for new exons: whole brain from embryonic day 11 to adult, specific brain regions dissected from adult brain, clonal lines of neural cells in vitro, and muscle cells and tissues cultured in vitro and obtained by dissection. Within the limits of the PCR methodology, no evidence for any alternative exon other than the previously identified VASE was obtained. The regulation of expression of this exon was found to be complex and tissue specific. Expression of the 30-bp exon in the heart and nervous system was found to be regulated independently; a significant proportion of embryonic day 15 heart NCAM mRNAs contain VASE while only a very small amount of day 15 nervous system mRNAs contain VASE. Some adult central nervous system regions, notably the olfactory bulb and the peripheral nervous system structures adrenal gland and dorsal root ganglia, express NCAM which contains very little VASE. VASE is undetectable in NCAM PCR products from the olfactory epithelium. Other nervous system regions express significant quantities of NCAM both with and without VASE. Clonal cell lines in culture generally expressed very little VASE. These results indicate that a single alternative exon, VASE, is found in NCAM immunoglobulin-like loop 4 and that distinct tissues and nervous system regions regulate expression of VASE independently both during development and in adult animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2089-2096
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Cell Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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