Transcription variants of SLA-7, a swine non classical MHC class I gene
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In pig, very little information is available on the non classical class I (Ib) genes of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) i.e. SLA-6, -7 and -8. Our aim was to focus on the transcription pattern of the SLA-7 gene. RT-PCR experiments were carried out with SLA-7 specific primers targeting either the full coding sequence (CDS) from exon 1 to the 3 prime untranslated region (3UTR) or a partial CDS from exon 4 to the 3UTR. We show that the SLA-7 gene expresses a full length transcript not yet identified that refines annotation of the gene with eight exons instead of seven as initially described from the existing RefSeq RNA. These two RNAs encode molecules that differ in cytoplasmic tail length. In this study, another SLA-7 transcript variant was characterized, which encodes a protein with a shorter alpha 3 domain, as a consequence of a splicing site within exon 4. Surprisingly, a cryptic non canonical GA-AG splicing site is used to generate this transcript variant. An additional SLA-7 variant was also identified in the 3UTR with a splicing site occurring 31 nucleotides downstream to the stop codon. In conclusion, the pig SLA-7 MHC class Ib gene presents a complex transcription pattern with two transcripts encoding various molecules and transcripts that do not alter the CDS and may be subject to post-transcriptional regulation.
KeywordsSplice Site Major Histocompatibility Complex Class Cytoplasmic Tail Classical Major Histocompatibility Complex Class Full Code Sequence
List of abbreviations used
Major Histocompatibility Complex
Human Leukocyte Antigen
Swine Leukocyte Antigen
Melanoblastoma-bearing Libechov Minipigs
3 prime untranslated region
- Class Ib
non classical class I
- Class Ia
classical class I
Non sense Mediated Decay
Polymerase Chain Reaction
The Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) class I gene family comprises classical (Ia) and non classical (Ib) genes. The highly polymorphic class Ia genes are widely expressed and encode membrane-bound glycoproteins that present self and viral peptides to cytotoxic T cells  and modulate the activity of natural killer cells . In contrast, the class Ib genes display limited polymorphism, and are predominantly expressed in immunotolerant organ sites in human, notably at the feto-maternal interface . In man, three MHC class Ib genes have been characterized, namely HLA-E, -F and -G and HLA-G has been shown to express alternatively spliced variants encoding various membrane-bound as well as soluble proteins . In mouse, the H2-QaI gene is orthologous to HLA-E and functional homologies have been established between H2-Qa2 and HLA-G. One to four MHC class Ib genes have been identified in rat according to haplotypes  and four MHC class Ib genes have been characterized in cattle . There is a growing interest in addressing the role of the MHC class Ib genes in the species where they are characterized. Indeed, MHC class Ia genes seem to share similar functions across species but the MHC class Ib genes are good candidates to address questions on both shared and species-specific immunity-related roles.
In pig, very limited information is available on the MHC class Ib genes SLA-6, -7 and -8. The three genes have been fully sequenced from the homozygous Hp1a.0 haplotype [9, 10]. Nine allelic variants have been reported for SLA-6 and only two for SLA-7 or SLA-8. It has been shown that SLA-Ib genes are expressed in a less restricted manner than the HLA-Ib genes [12, 13] despite a predominant transcription in the lymphoid organs, the lung and the digestive tract . In addition, conversely to the SLA-Ia genes, transfection experiments have revealed that the promoters of SLA-7 and SLA-6 do not respond to interferon, suggesting distinct regulatory systems for pig MHC class Ia and Ib genes, as in human . Our aim was to focus on the transcription of the SLA-7 gene known to have a unique reference transcript . In this report, we show that the SLA-7 gene expresses a full-length transcript not yet identified as well as at least two additional alternative spliced variants that lead to either exon alteration in the resulting protein or modification of the 3’end of the transcript.
Animals, tissues and RNA extraction
Tissues from Melanoma-bearing Libechov Minipigs (MeLiM)  and French Large White pigs were used. The tissues from MeLiM pigs have been sampled on 13 months old animals. At the time of tissue sampling, all MeLiM animals had regressed, meaning that they were not bearing melanomas anymore . Tissues included brain, thymus, tonsil, spleen and liver. Total RNA was extracted using QIAGEN RNeasy Mini Kits (Qiagen, France). All RNA samples were purified by on-column digestion of DNA with DNase I as recommended by the manufacturer (Qiagen, France).
Sequence of primers (5’-3’)
Position of primers
RT-PCR and sequencing
Two micrograms of DNaseI-treated total RNA were reverse-transcribed (Superscript II enzyme, Invitrogen, USA) with Oligo (dT) primers in a final volume of 20 µL to which 30 µL of water were further added to prepare the stock solution of RT samples. PCRs were carried out in a final volume of 15 µL using 100 nM of each primer, 1 µL of the 1:10 RT sample and the GoTaq™ DNA polymerase (Promega, USA). Thermocycling conditions were as follows: 94°C for 3 min, followed by 35 amplification cycles at 94°C for 30 sec, 60°C for 30 sec and 72°C for 90 sec, followed by a final extension at 72°C for 5 min. The PCR products were purified using the JETQUICK Gel Extraction Spin Kit (Genomed, Germany) for further cloning into pCR2.1 vector (TA Cloning Kit, Invitrogen, USA) and sequencing (Eurofins MWG Operon, France).
Sequence similarities were searched with the BLAST tools . Multiple alignments were carried out with CLUSTALW . cDNA sequences were translated to protein by online DNA to Protein translation tool (http://bio.lundberg.gu.se/edu/translat.html).
Results and discussion
SLA-7 full coding sequences
An SLA-7 spliced variant encoding a protein with a shorter alpha 3 domain
A 1366 nucleotides long transcript was retrieved from brain RNA and further referred to as SLA-7-1366 (accession number: HQ224544). Surprisingly, annotation of the cDNA revealed the presence of nine exons due to a splicing site within exon 4 (Figures 1 and 2). The two exons matching to exon 4 were named exons 4a and 4b (Figure 1). Alignment of the SLA-7-1366 cDNA to the reference genomic sequence showed that between exons 4a and 4b, the donor and acceptor splice sites were GA and AG, respectively. This finding indicates that a cryptic non canonical splicing code is used to express this SLA-7 transcript variant. The general rule is the use of GT and AG for donor and acceptor splicing sites, respectively , but alternative codes may be functional . It has been shown that the GA-AG splicing site is rarely used and a few cases have been reported among which splicing in the human parafibromin gene . Our results suggest that the SLA-7 gene may be subject to subtle regulation resulting in the use of rarely used non canonical splicing sites. Additional studies are required to analyze whether this regulation is tissue-specific.
The SLA-7-1366 and SLA-7-1465 encoded molecules with different alpha 3 domain lengths (figures 1 and 2) i.e. 59 (39 from exon 4a and 20 from exon 4b) and 92 aminoacids long, respectively. The alpha 3 domain corresponds to the Immunoglobulin-like region and interacts with the cell surface CD8 glycoproteins that are expressed on cytotoxic T lymphocytes and function as a co-receptor with the T cell receptor . Expression of SLA-7 molecules on the cell surface has not been demonstrated. However, the alpha 3 domain encoded by the SLA-7-1366 transcript is shortened by comparison to the full-length molecule, suggesting that such a modification may alter interactions with cell receptors.
A spliced variant in the 3’UTR with no alteration of the encoded protein
By using primers targeting the three prime end of the gene from exon 4 (SLA-7-e4-F) to the 3UTR (SLA-7-3UTR-R) (Table 1 and figure 1), two partial transcripts were recovered that differ in non coding sequence length (Figure 1). The 650 nucleotide long sequence (SLA-7-650) corresponds to the expected full-length sequence. The 464 nucleotide long sequence SLA-7-464 (accession number: GU322919) is the result of an alternative splicing within the 3UTR region, 31 nucleotides downstream to the stop codon. Modification of the 3UTR does not affect the encoded molecules. As indicated in figure 1, the canonical GT-AG rule was used for this splicing. A new category of transcripts has been recently characterized that can be subject to non sense mediated decay (NMD) [27, 28]. Variants targeted by NMD can present alternative splicing in the 3UTR and the distance between the stop codon and the splice site has been shown to be more than 50 nucleotides long . The SLA-7-464 variant cannot fall into this category of transcripts subject to NMD because the distance between the stop codon and the splicing site in only 31 nucleotides. However, it is tempting to hypothesize that SLA-7-464 variants are subject to a post-transcriptional regulation that has to be explored.
Conclusion and perspectives
We have identified an SLA-7 full length transcript that had not been characterized before and that differs from the reference sequence by the length of the encoded cytoplasmic tail. In addition, we show that the SLA-7 gene is subject to alternative splicing transcription that leads to either a transcript encoding a molecule with a shortened alpha 3 domain or a transcript that is spliced in the 3UTR after the stop codon. In conclusion, the non classical MHC class Ib gene SLA-7 gene presents a complex transcription pattern, the regulation of which needs to be further investigated. The functions of the putative encoded molecules also need to be studied.
The authors would like to thank Dr. Patrick Chardon (GABI-GIS, INRA, France) for useful discussion and Hélène Hayes for English correction of the manuscript. Rui Hu’s PhD was supported by the Animal Genetics Department of INRA and Dadi Agriculture Comprehensive Exploitation Co. Ltd, Liaoning, China.
This article has been published as part of BMC Proceedings Volume 5 Supplement 4, 2011: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Animal Genomics for Animal Health (AGAH 2010). The full contents of the supplement are available online at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1753-6561/5?issue=S4.
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