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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The sequence, structure and evolutionary features of HOTAIR in mammals

Sha He1, Shiping Liu2 and Hao Zhu1*

Author Affiliations

1 Bioinformatics Section, School of Basic Medical Sciences, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou, 510515, China

2 School of Biology, South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, 510510, China

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:102  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-102

Published: 16 April 2011

Abstract

Background

An increasing number of long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) have been identified recently. Different from all the others that function in cis to regulate local gene expression, the newly identified HOTAIR is located between HoxC11 and HoxC12 in the human genome and regulates HoxD expression in multiple tissues. Like the well-characterised lncRNA Xist, HOTAIR binds to polycomb proteins to methylate histones at multiple HoxD loci, but unlike Xist, many details of its structure and function, as well as the trans regulation, remain unclear. Moreover, HOTAIR is involved in the aberrant regulation of gene expression in cancer.

Results

To identify conserved domains in HOTAIR and study the phylogenetic distribution of this lncRNA, we searched the genomes of 10 mammalian and 3 non-mammalian vertebrates for matches to its 6 exons and the two conserved domains within the 1800 bp exon6 using Infernal. There was just one high-scoring hit for each mammal, but many low-scoring hits were found in both mammals and non-mammalian vertebrates. These hits and their flanking genes in four placental mammals and platypus were examined to determine whether HOTAIR contained elements shared by other lncRNAs. Several of the hits were within unknown transcripts or ncRNAs, many were within introns of, or antisense to, protein-coding genes, and conservation of the flanking genes was observed only between human and chimpanzee. Phylogenetic analysis revealed discrete evolutionary dynamics for orthologous sequences of HOTAIR exons. Exon1 at the 5' end and a domain in exon6 near the 3' end, which contain domains that bind to multiple proteins, have evolved faster in primates than in other mammals. Structures were predicted for exon1, two domains of exon6 and the full HOTAIR sequence. The sequence and structure of two fragments, in exon1 and the domain B of exon6 respectively, were identified to robustly occur in predicted structures of exon1, domain B of exon6 and the full HOTAIR in mammals.

Conclusions

HOTAIR exists in mammals, has poorly conserved sequences and considerably conserved structures, and has evolved faster than nearby HoxC genes. Exons of HOTAIR show distinct evolutionary features, and a 239 bp domain in the 1804 bp exon6 is especially conserved. These features, together with the absence of some exons and sequences in mouse, rat and kangaroo, suggest ab initio generation of HOTAIR in marsupials. Structure prediction identifies two fragments in the 5' end exon1 and the 3' end domain B of exon6, with sequence and structure invariably occurring in various predicted structures of exon1, the domain B of exon6 and the full HOTAIR.