Open Access Research article

The significance of alternative transcripts for Caenorhabditis elegans transcription factor genes, based on expression pattern analysis

Hannah L Craig1, Julia Wirtz1, Sophie Bamps1, Colin T Dolphin2 and Ian A Hope1*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, The University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

2 Institute of Pharmaceutical Science, King’s College London, 150 Stamford Street, London SE1 9NH, UK

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:249  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-249

Published: 15 April 2013



Sequence-specific DNA-binding proteins, with their paramount importance in the regulation of expression of the genetic material, are encoded by approximately 5% of the genes in an animal’s genome. But it is unclear to what extent alternative transcripts from these genes may further increase the complexity of the transcription factor complement.


Of the 938 potential C. elegans transcription factor genes, 197 were annotated in WormBase as encoding at least two distinct isoforms. Evaluation of prior evidence identified, with different levels of confidence, 50 genes with alternative transcript starts, 23 with alternative transcript ends, 35 with alternative splicing and 34 with alternative transcripts generated by a combination of mechanisms, leaving 55 that were discounted. Expression patterns were determined for transcripts for a sample of 29 transcription factor genes, concentrating on those with alternative transcript starts for which the evidence was strongest. Seamless fosmid recombineering was used to generate reporter gene fusions with minimal modification to assay expression of specific transcripts while maintaining the broad genomic DNA context and alternative transcript production. Alternative transcription factor gene transcripts were typically expressed with identical or substantially overlapping distributions rather than in distinct domains.


Increasingly sensitive sequencing technologies will reveal rare transcripts but many of these are clearly non-productive. The majority of the transcription factor gene alternative transcripts that are productive may represent tolerable noise rather than encoding functionally distinct isoforms.