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Open Access Research article

Modeling the asymmetric evolution of a mouse and rat-specific microRNA gene cluster intron 10 of the Sfmbt2 gene

Stefan Lehnert1, Vladimir Kapitonov2, Pushpike J Thilakarathne3 and Frans C Schuit1*

Author Affiliations

1 Gene Expression Unit, Department of Molecular Cell Biology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

2 Genetic Information Research Institute, 1925 Landings Dr, Mountain View, CA 94043, USA

3 Interuniversity Institute for Biostatistics and statistical Bioinformatics, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Kapucijnenvoer 35, Blok D, bus 7001, B3000 Leuven, Belgium, and Universiteit Hasselt, Belgium

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:257  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-257

Published: 23 May 2011

Abstract

Background

The total number of miRNA genes in a genome, expression of which is responsible for the miRNA repertoire of an organism, is not precisely known. Moreover, the question of how new miRNA genes arise during evolution is incompletely understood. Recent data in humans and opossum indicate that retrotranspons of the class of short interspersed nuclear elements have contributed to the growth of microRNA gene clusters.

Method

We studied a large miRNA gene cluster in intron 10 of the mouse Sfmbt2 gene using bioinformatic tools.

Results

Mice and rats are unique to harbor a 55-65 Kb DNA sequence in intron 10 of the Sfmbt2 gene. This intronic region is rich in regularly repeated B1 retrotransposons together with inverted self-complementary CA/TG microsatellites. The smallest repeats unit, called MSHORT1 in the mouse, was duplicated 9 times in a tandem head-to-tail array to form 2.5 Kb MLONG1 units. The center of the mouse miRNA gene cluster consists of 13 copies of MLONG1. BLAST analysis of MSHORT1 in the mouse shows that the repeat unit is unique for intron 10 of the Sfmbt2 gene and suggest a dual phase model for growth of the miRNA gene cluster: arrangment of 10 MSHORT1 units into MLONG1 and further duplication of 13 head-to-tail MLONG1 units in the center of the miRNA gene cluster. Rats have a similar arrangment of repeat units in intron 10 of the Sfmbt2 gene. The discrepancy between 65 miRNA genes in the mouse cluster as compared to only 1 miRNA gene in the corresponding rat repeat cluster is ascribed to sequence differences between MSHORT1 and RSHORT1 that result in lateral-shifted, less-stable miRNA precursor hairpins for RSHORT1.

Conclusion

Our data provides new evidence for the emerging concept that lineage-specific retroposons have played an important role in the birth of new miRNA genes during evolution. The large difference in the number of miRNA genes in two closely related species (65 versus 1, mice versus rats) indicates that this species-specific evolution can be a rapid process.

Keywords:
microRNA; miRNA; simple repeat; SINE B1F3; evolution; gene conversion