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Open Access Research article

RNA editing and alternative splicing of the insect nAChR subunit alpha6 transcript: evolutionary conservation, divergence and regulation

Yongfeng Jin12*, Nan Tian1, Jun Cao1, Jing Liang1, Zhaolin Yang1 and Jianning Lv1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Biochemistry, College of Life Sciences, Zhejiang University(Zijingang Campus), Hangzhou, Zhejiang, ZJ310058, P.R. of China

2 Institute of Biochemistry, Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, ZJ 310018, P.R. China

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:98  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-98

Published: 27 June 2007



RNA editing and alternative splicing play an important role in expanding protein diversity and this is well illustrated in studies of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs).


Here, we compare the RNA editing and alternative splicing of the nAChR alpha6 subunit genes from different insects spanning ~300 million years of evolution– Drosophila melanogaster, Anopheles gambiae, Bombyx mori, Tribolium castaneum and Apis mellifera. The conserved and species-specific A-to-I RNA editing occurred across all species except A. gambiae, which displayed extraordinarily short flanking intronic sequences. Interestingly, some A-to-I editing sites were a genomically encoded G in other species. A combination of the experimental data and computational analysis of orthologous alpha6 genes from different species indicated that RNA editing and alternative splicing predated at least the radiation of insect orders spanning ~300 million years of evolution; however, they might have been lost in some species during subsequent evolution. The occurrence of alternative splicing was found to be regulated in distinct modes and, in some cases, even correlated with RNA editing.


On the basis of comparative analysis of orthologous nAChR alpha6 genes from different insects spanning ~300 million years of evolution, we have documented the existence, evolutionary conservation and divergence, and also regulation of RNA editing and alternative splicing. Phylogenetic analysis of RNA editing and alternative splicing, which can create a multitude of functionally distinct protein isoforms, might have a crucial role in the evolution of complex organisms beyond nucleotide and protein sequences.