Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Genome-wide survey of allele-specific splicing in humans

Victoria Nembaware1, Bukiwe Lupindo1, Katherine Schouest2, Charles Spillane2, Konrad Scheffler1 and Cathal Seoighe1*

Author affiliations

1 Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town, Private Bag, Rondebosch, 7700, Cape Town, South Africa

2 Genetics & Biotechnology Lab, Department of Biochemistry & BioSciences Institute, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2008, 9:265  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-265

Published: 2 June 2008

Abstract

Background

Accurate mRNA splicing depends on multiple regulatory signals encoded in the transcribed RNA sequence. Many examples of mutations within human splice regulatory regions that alter splicing qualitatively or quantitatively have been reported and allelic differences in mRNA splicing are likely to be a common and important source of phenotypic diversity at the molecular level, in addition to their contribution to genetic disease susceptibility. However, because the effect of a mutation on the efficiency of mRNA splicing is often difficult to predict, many mutations that cause disease through an effect on splicing are likely to remain undiscovered.

Results

We have combined a genome-wide scan for sequence polymorphisms likely to affect mRNA splicing with analysis of publicly available Expressed Sequence Tag (EST) and exon array data. The genome-wide scan uses published tools and identified 30,977 SNPs located within donor and acceptor splice sites, branch points and exonic splicing enhancer elements. For 1,185 candidate splicing polymorphisms the difference in splicing between alternative alleles was corroborated by publicly available exon array data from 166 lymphoblastoid cell lines. We developed a novel probabilistic method to infer allele-specific splicing from EST data. The method uses SNPs and alternative mRNA isoforms mapped to EST sequences and models both regulated alternative splicing as well as allele-specific splicing. We have also estimated heritability of splicing and report that a greater proportion of genes show evidence of splicing heritability than show heritability of overall gene expression level. Our results provide an extensive resource that can be used to assess the possible effect on splicing of human polymorphisms in putative splice-regulatory sites.

Conclusion

We report a set of genes showing evidence of allele-specific splicing from an integrated analysis of genomic polymorphisms, EST data and exon array data, including several examples for which there is experimental evidence of polymorphisms affecting splicing in the literature. We also present a set of novel allele-specific splicing candidates and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of alternative technologies for inferring the effect of sequence variants on mRNA splicing.