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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Predicting mutually exclusive spliced exons based on exon length, splice site and reading frame conservation, and exon sequence homology

Holger Pillmann, Klas Hatje, Florian Odronitz, Björn Hammesfahr and Martin Kollmar*

Author Affiliations

Abteilung NMR basierte Strukturbiologie, Max-Planck-Institut für Biophysikalische Chemie, Am Fassberg 11, D-37077 Göttingen, Germany

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12:270  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-270

Published: 30 June 2011

Abstract

Background

Alternative splicing of pre-mature RNA is an important process eukaryotes utilize to increase their repertoire of different protein products. Several types of different alternative splice forms exist including exon skipping, differential splicing of exons at their 3'- or 5'-end, intron retention, and mutually exclusive splicing. The latter term is used for clusters of internal exons that are spliced in a mutually exclusive manner.

Results

We have implemented an extension to the WebScipio software to search for mutually exclusive exons. Here, the search is based on the precondition that mutually exclusive exons encode regions of the same structural part of the protein product. This precondition provides restrictions to the search for candidate exons concerning their length, splice site conservation and reading frame preservation, and overall homology. Mutually exclusive exons that are not homologous and not of about the same length will not be found. Using the new algorithm, mutually exclusive exons in several example genes, a dynein heavy chain, a muscle myosin heavy chain, and Dscam were correctly identified. In addition, the algorithm was applied to the whole Drosophila melanogaster X chromosome and the results were compared to the Flybase annotation and an ab initio prediction. Clusters of mutually exclusive exons might be subsequent to each other and might encode dozens of exons.

Conclusions

This is the first implementation of an automatic search for mutually exclusive exons in eukaryotes. Exons are predicted and reconstructed in the same run providing the complete gene structure for the protein query of interest. WebScipio offers high quality gene structure figures with the clusters of mutually exclusive exons colour-coded, and several analysis tools for further manual inspection. The genome scale analysis of all genes of the Drosophila melanogaster X chromosome showed that WebScipio is able to find all but two of the 28 annotated mutually exclusive spliced exons and predicts 39 new candidate exons. Thus, WebScipio should be able to identify mutually exclusive spliced exons in any query sequence from any species with a very high probability. WebScipio is freely available to academics at http://www.webscipio.org webcite.