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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Revised genomic structure of the human ghrelin gene and identification of novel exons, alternative splice variants and natural antisense transcripts

Inge Seim, Chris Collet, Adrian C Herington and Lisa K Chopin*

Author Affiliations

Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove, Queensland, Australia

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BMC Genomics 2007, 8:298  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-298

Published: 30 August 2007

Abstract

Background

Ghrelin is a multifunctional peptide hormone expressed in a range of normal tissues and pathologies. It has been reported that the human ghrelin gene consists of five exons which span 5 kb of genomic DNA on chromosome 3 and includes a 20 bp non-coding first exon (20 bp exon 0). The availability of bioinformatic tools enabling comparative analysis and the finalisation of the human genome prompted us to re-examine the genomic structure of the ghrelin locus.

Results

We have demonstrated the presence of an additional novel exon (exon -1) and 5' extensions to exon 0 and 1 using comparative in silico analysis and have demonstrated their existence experimentally using RT-PCR and 5' RACE. A revised exon-intron structure demonstrates that the human ghrelin gene spans 7.2 kb and consists of six rather than five exons. Several ghrelin gene-derived splice forms were detected in a range of human tissues and cell lines. We have demonstrated ghrelin gene-derived mRNA transcripts that do not code for ghrelin, but instead may encode the C-terminal region of full-length preproghrelin (C-ghrelin, which contains the coding region for obestatin) and a transcript encoding obestatin-only. Splice variants that differed in their 5' untranslated regions were also found, suggesting a role of these regions in the post-transcriptional regulation of preproghrelin translation. Finally, several natural antisense transcripts, termed ghrelinOS (ghrelin opposite strand) transcripts, were demonstrated via orientation-specific RT-PCR, 5' RACE and in silico analysis of ESTs and cloned amplicons.

Conclusion

The sense and antisense alternative transcripts demonstrated in this study may function as non-coding regulatory RNA, or code for novel protein isoforms. This is the first demonstration of putative obestatin and C-ghrelin specific transcripts and these findings suggest that these ghrelin gene-derived peptides may also be produced independently of preproghrelin. This study reveals several novel aspects of the ghrelin gene and suggests that the ghrelin locus is far more complex than previously recognised.