DDX11L: a novel transcript family emerging from human subtelomeric regions
- Valerio Costa†1,
- Amelia Casamassimi†1, 2,
- Roberta Roberto3,
- Fernando Gianfrancesco1,
- Maria R Matarazzo1,
- Michele D'Urso1,
- Maurizio D'Esposito1,
- Mariano Rocchi3 and
- Alfredo Ciccodicola1Email author
© Costa et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2009
Received: 27 October 2008
Accepted: 28 May 2009
Published: 28 May 2009
The subtelomeric regions of human chromosomes exhibit an extraordinary plasticity. To date, due to the high GC content and to the presence of telomeric repeats, the subtelomeric sequences are underrepresented in the genomic libraries and consequently their sequences are incomplete in the finished human genome sequence, and still much remains to be learned about subtelomere organization, evolution and function. Indeed, only in recent years, several studies have disclosed, within human subtelomeres, novel gene family members.
During a project aimed to analyze genes located in the telomeric region of the long arm of the human X chromosome, we have identified a novel transcript family, DDX11L, members of which map to 1pter, 2q13/14.1, 2qter, 3qter, 6pter, 9pter/9qter, 11pter, 12pter, 15qter, 16pter, 17pter, 19pter, 20pter/20qter, Xpter/Xqter and Yqter. Furthermore, we partially sequenced the underrepresented subtelomeres of human chromosomes showing a common evolutionary origin.
Our data indicate that an ancestral gene, originated as a rearranged portion of the primate DDX11 gene, and propagated along many subtelomeric locations, is emerging within subtelomeres of human chromosomes, defining a novel gene family. These findings support the possibility that the high plasticity of these regions, sites of DNA exchange among different chromosomes, could trigger the emergence of new genes.
Human subtelomeric sequences are extraordinarily dynamic and variable regions near the ends of chromosomes, and represent the transition sites between chromosomes-specific sequences and telomeric repeats capping each chromosomal end . The unusual nucleotide composition of human subtelomeres was first evident from fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) analysis of cloned segments of subtelomeric regions .
However, to date, the large variability of subtelomeric sequences is underrepresented in the complete human genome database, because of the low representation of clones covering the proximity of these regions in the libraries used in the Human Genome Project. Moreover, the high level of polymorphism found in the human subtelomeres, makes assembling multiple different alleles of the same chromosome more challenging than most of the regions of human genome.
The comparative analysis of fully sequenced subtelomeres of human 4p, 16p, 22q, Xq and Yq, has revealed a common structure, in which the proximal and distal subtelomeric domains are separated by a stretch of degenerate TTAGGG repeats [3–6]. The subtelomeric repeats identified in these studies, often show a polymorphic chromosomal distribution, due to infrequent events of non-homologous recombination that transfer irregular DNA patches to some chromosomes but not to others . Furthermore, the high rate of homology shared by some subtelomeric and centromeric sequences, indicates past transfers of genomic material among these sites .
The analysis of subtelomeric sequences has shown that these fragments are more than simple functionless DNA spacer regions joining the telomere to chromosome-specific sequences . Indeed, subtelomeres seem to be involved in various processes such as homologous and non-homologous chromosome recombination events, and also in the telomere healing, consisting in telomere elongation in the absence of telomerase [10, 11]. It has also been postulated that subtelomeres attenuate the telomere position effect (TPE), a gene-silencing phenomenon due to the heterochromatic state of telomeres involving all the genes located in the proximity of the telomeres . Furthermore, in addition to their structural role, the subtelomeric regions of human chromosomes contain many genes, members of several gene families [13, 14].
During the evolution of genomes, a huge number of new genes have been created by gene-duplication events . These processes are most commonly followed by one or more mutational events that silence one member of the pair, although they may alternatively undergo processes of sub-functionalization or neo-functionalization. In the former, both the pair members acquire degenerative mutations reducing their pattern of splicing and their activity compared to the single ancestral gene. The latter, conversely, contributes to the creation of a gene family with novel functions, as one gene accumulating mutations may acquire a different function, while the other member still retains the original one [15, 16].
In this paper we describe the characterization of a novel multicopy transcript closely adjacent to TelBam3.4 derived sequences. Previously reported as a pseudogene of CHLR1-related helicase gene [5, 17, 18], the newly defined transcript family, DDX11L, was disclosed in the subtelomeres of various human chromosomes. The identification of this novel gene family and its spreading along the primate lineage, offers novel insights into our understanding of subtelomeres dynamics, and into the emergence of a multicopy transcript from an inactive pseudogene.
Although we have not yet defined a biological function for the newly identified transcript family, we found that these genomic regions are actively transcribed (in many human tissues) and also undergo canonical splicing. To date, we cannot define these transcriptionally active regions as functional genes, but we cannot definitely exclude it. In the paper the term "gene family" will be referred to "transcriptionally active regions family".
Genomic structure and localization of DDX11L genes
Our group has contributed to the full sequence project of human X chromosome . In our previous experiments , we sequenced 400 kb of the subtelomeric region of the long arm of human X chromosome (Xq-PAR) and the related telomere sequence. During this work, the bioinformatics analysis revealed, within this genomic region, the presence of 4 genes (SYBL1, HSPRY3, IL9R and CXYorf1, currently named WASH) and 2 pseudogenes (AMD2p and CHL1p).
A routine comparison of the previously identified CHL1p pseudogene sequence with the available databases revealed that this sequence shares high homology with the sequence corresponding to CHLR1-related helicase gene (DDX11 gene), mapping to 12p11 and 12p13, as well as with human TelBam 3.4, telomere-associated sequence [2, 17].
DDX11L gene family
All the sequences of DDX11L gene family members – both known and sequenced during this work – were aligned. The alignment revealed that these sequences contain inter-chromosomal single base variations within exons and introns. This analysis allowed us to detect a specific haplotype for each analyzed chromosome, also revealing the presence of a 12 bp deletion in the 3' end of DDX11L16 gene in Xq/Yq region (see Figure 1B). The sequence analysis also revealed the presence of different open reading frames (ORF; data not shown). Furthermore, since the sequence alignment revealed that DDX11L genes are distal to WASH genes, overlapping a few bp within the fully sequenced subtelomeres of Xq, Yq, 16p, 15q, 1p, 9p and 2q13/14.1, we investigated whether these two genes also overlapped in the subtelomeres of 3, 6, 11, 17, 19 and 20 human chromosomes.
Expression analysis of DDX11L genes
We detected the expression of the DDX11L gene family members on 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20 human autosomes, using a semiquantitative RT-PCR on RNAs extracted from the monochromosomal somatic hybrid cell lines [see Additional file 1]. Expression analysis revealed the presence of an alternatively spliced transcript, a short splice variant of 1481 bp in the DDX11L9, DDX11L11 and DDX11L12 genes, on 15, 17 and 19 chromosomes, respectively (see Figure 1B; accession ns. AM992880, AM992881 and AM992878). Sequence analysis revealed that the short splice variant consists of the entire exon 1, an exon 2, 18 bp longer at the 3' end, and an exon 3, 180 bp shorter at the 5'. These newly identified donor and acceptor splice sites are in accordance with the GT-AG rule . A significant ORF of 402 bp in the DDX11L9 short splice variant – ATG located at the position 317 and TAG at the position 718 – was found, encoding a putative protein of 133 aminoacids significantly homologous (up to 88%) to DDX11 protein. Similarly, it was found a 336 bp ORF in the DDX11L11 short splice variant – ATG at the position 383 and TAG at the position 718 – encoding a putative protein of 111 aminoacids. Conversely, we found a significant, but shorter, ORF of 270 bp in the DDX11L12 splice variant, with the ATG at the position 734 and the TAG at the position 1003. This transcript encodes a putative protein of 89 aminoacids, with a high sequence identity (up to 80%) in the N-terminal region of DDX11 protein (aminoacids 1–36). On the opposite, no significant similarity with known proteins in the C-terminal region was detected. We have, therefore, identified at least 3 potentially intact DDX11L variants (with different ORFs), and it is likely that some of these may have slightly different functions, although we have no evidence for positive selection in mammalian DDX11L1 genes. Moreover, a deeper sampling would be required to account for all identified gene copies.
Furthermore, to assess the expression pattern of the DDX11L genes, we carried out an RT-PCR analysis – amplifying a product of 976 bp – on RNAs derived from 8 human tissues and 4 different human cell lines (three of them from stabilized cancers). This analysis revealed that the DDX11L genes are ubiquitously expressed with no detectable expression only in retinoblastoma (Y79) and HeLa cell lines (see Figure 2B).
The assessment of sex – and chromosome-specific – expression was attempted using oligonucleotide primer pairs designed across a cDNA-specific sequence, in the hybrid cells employed to analyze DDX11L16. The gene expression was detected in three hybrids containing active X (GM06318B), inactive X (THX88) and Y (GM06317) chromosome, already used for inactivation experiments . The expression analysis confirmed, as awaited for its localization in the PAR2 of X and Y human chromosomes, that DDX11L16 escapes from X inactivation and has an active homolog on the human Y chromosome (Figure 2C).
DDX11L genes are present in multiple copies in primates' genomes
Recent comparisons among human and other primates genome, have revealed the presence of evolutionarily conserved sequences – syntenic regions – usually related to functional portions of the genome, such as protein-coding genes as well as non-genic sequences, probably with regulatory and structural functions [22, 23]. To investigate the conservation of DDX11L genes along the primate evolution, human sequences obtained from direct sequencing of each DDX11L gene copy (see "Genomic structure and localization of DDX11L genes" section) and from the public databases (NCBI), were aligned with the sequences derived from BLAST analysis on chimpanzee, rhesus and orangutan genomes, using ClustalW algorithm. The analysis revealed that the human DDX11L genes have a high degree of conservation along primates, showing up to 98% of sequence homology to subtelomeric sequences from chromosomes XI and XIV of chimpanzee, and 91% with the subtelomeric sequences from chromosome 13 of rhesus. No DDX11L homologous were found in the orangutan genome assembly. Both in chimpanzee and in rhesus, the DDX11L homologous genes revealed to overlap – as already shown in the humans – a gene homologous to the human WASH in the PAR2 of the X chromosome.
In addition, the human DDX11L gene family members showed a significant sequence similarity with the DDX11 homologous gene of chimpanzee and rhesus on chromosomes IIp and 11, respectively.
Hybridization signals, using the same FISH probe, were also detected in the subtelomeres of chromosomes XII and XX of PTR, and in the subtelomeres of GGO chromosomes III, VI, XII, and XX (Figure 3), providing a relevant clue to the duplication events of large DNA patches occurred in the evolution of primates (see Discussion). No signals were detected in the orangutan metaphase chromosomes, confirming the in silico BLAST observation.
These data confirm the duplicated nature of the subtelomeric regions of human chromosomes, and clearly indicate that this gene emerged along the great apes lineage.
The subtelomeric regions of human chromosomes exhibit a dynamic nature and share wide regions of homology among them, providing an opportunity for non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) [9–11]. These regions are also involved in the attenuation of telomere position effect, demonstrated in yeast and some human cell lines [12, 25, 26]. In addition to a structural role, the subtelomeres of human chromosomes contain many gene families, mostly originated from duplication events [13, 14].
The process of birth of a novel gene comprises initial mutational events – that give rise to new gene structure – followed by an evolutionary process in which the new gene structure becomes fixed in the species, and then it is improved for a new function . Processes of exon shuffling (i.e. alternative splicing), retro-transposition, and gene duplication are the major mechanisms for generating novel genes, fixating the advantageous novelties. In many cases the emergence of a novel gene/function may be triggered for instance by some environmental variations [5, 28].
We previously reported the presence of a pseudogene, CHL1p, within the subtelomeric region of the long arm of human X chromosome . Since evidence has been found in Drosophila, in mouse, and recently in humans, of pseudogene functionality as well as of conservation [30–32], we were encouraged to investigate whether this region contained transcriptionally active sequences.
The DDX11L gene family members derive from a rearranged portion of the primate DDX11 gene (alias CHLR1, homologous to CHL helicase of Saccaromyces Cerevisiae), propagated among many subtelomeric locations (see table 1) as part of a segmental duplication . The human subtelomeric DDX11L genes show up to 98,5% sequence identity with the exons 18 and 22–25, and the 3' UTR of DDX11 gene. The finding that DDX11L is a novel multicopy gene family present in different human and primate subtelomeres, and that all the identified gene copies undergo canonical splicing mechanism – and are also transcribed (at least in humans) – suggests this gene is emerging from an inactive pseudogene, and is probably undergoing a neo-functionalization process . Therefore, this gene system may provide a valuable opportunity to investigate the emergence of a novel gene and a novel function in the recent human evolution.
Sequence comparison of the human DDX11L genes with the available databases, has shown the high degree of evolutionary conservation of this novel genes along the primates genomes, also revealing that these genes lie in proximity of WASH genes, within subtelomeres of many primates chromosomes.
Particularly, the WASH genes – pseudo and intact genes – were found in 16 different sites in human genome , and we have demonstrated that DDX11L and WASH genes co-localize within all described loci. DDX11L genes were found only in the primates, whereas WASH genes show orthologs in the vertebrates, flies, worms, slime mold, and entamoeba. The creation of a genomic block of about 8 kb, containing DDX11L-WASH genes (telomere to centromere orientation), occurred in the telomeres of a common ancestor of the humans and chimpanzee, in a period ranging from 65 to 8 million years ago (mya), after the evolutionary divergence of rodents and cat species from primates, and before the recombination event that created the PAR2 on the Y human chromosome. This multi-step hypothesis is strongly supported by the evidence that DDX11L emerged as novel gene family only in the primate genomes, and is completely absent in the wallaby, rodents and cat genomes . Moreover, the presence of this genomic block on the primate X chromosome, and even on the Y chromosome of humans, strengthens this theory. The presence of the DDX11L-WASH block in the terminal regions of chromosomes in different individuals, provides clues about the history of its spreading through the genome, and throughout human populations.
Because of DDX11L proximity to the TAR (about 400 bp), it is clear that the telomere length, as well as the somatic variation in telomere organization, could greatly affect the expression of DDX11L genes. On the other hand, as hypothesized by Linardopoulou et al. (2005), subtelomeric dynamics might give a contribution to the normal human phenotypic variation and, more generally, to the diversification of these gene families .
Although we have identified at least 3 potentially translated DDX11L ORFs, with putative different aminoacid sequence and function, we cannot exclude that the transcripts may exert an unknown regulatory function. It has been shown that the genes encoding evolutionarily conserved protein, duplicated in multiple sites along primate genomes, might contribute to interspecies phenotypic differences . The subtelomeric gene dosage changes, and the rapid genetic shuffling within these regions, may have important evolutionary consequences [8, 33, 34]. For instance, the telomeres maintenance pathways, mostly influenced by the recombination, could be affected by differential subtelomeric structure, sequence organization and copy number variation .
Our data provide an additional clue to the duplication and the evolution of the human subtelomeres, confirming the high degree of plasticity of these regions, continuously involved in processes of genomic rearrangements and novel gene creation. The identification of a novel gene family emerging from human subtelomeric regions, and the evidence that an ancestral DNA patch has duplicated and then moved through the primates genomes in different ways and times, provide useful resources for a better understanding of the subtelomeres dynamics. However, additional targeted efforts are necessary to examine in depth the subtelomeric regions, in order to gain a complete understanding of the subtelomere evolution and functioning. Moreover, since their localization within highly dynamic human subtelomeric regions greatly predisposes these genes to rearrangements (duplications, deletions), DDX11L may contribute to normal human variation as well as to pathology.
Further detailed characterization of the DDX11L protein function(s), and an extensive genetic population analysis, will be needed to rule out the occurrence and the frequency of variant subtelomeric alleles, which could have advantageous, as well as detrimental or pathological, consequences on human health.
Similarity searches, EST alignments and protein prediction
BLAST searches in dbEST, assembly of ESTs and editing of consensus sequence was performed using Autoassembler program (ABI). Genomic similarity searches were performed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/BLAST. All sequence alignments were performed using ClustalW algorithm. Exon prediction from genomic sequences was confirmed using AceView Gene, GeneScan and Vega Pseudogenes at Genome Browser web site http://genome.ucsc.edu. The analysis of coding sequences was performed using ORF Finder program http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gorf/gorf.html. Protein sequence similarity searches were performed at NCBI against non-redundant protein databases.
Sequencing of the IMAGE cDNA clones, PCR and RT-PCR products were performed using the dye terminator chemistry (Big Dye Terminator Cycle Sequencing II kit, Applied Biosystem, Foster City, CA, USA) according to the user manual instructions and analysed using an automated sequencer (ABI 3100; Applied Biosystem, Foster City, CA).
Hamster/mouse-human somatic cell hybrids, containing each a different human chromosome, were cultured in DMEM/F12. For a list of somatic cell hybrids used in the present work, see Additional file 1.
PCR and RT-PCR analysis
For semi-quantitative RT-PCR, total RNA from eight human tissues (brain, liver, skeletal muscle, heart, kidney, stomach, breast and colon) was purchased from Clontech. Total RNA from an RPE cell line, ARPE-19, lymphoblastoid (LCL), Y79 and teratocarcinoma cell lines were isolated by RNAzol B (Campro Scientific) and treated with Dnase I (Gibco/BRL). Semiquantitative RT-PCRs were performed as described . A 5 μg aliquot of tissue RNA, isolated as previous described , was used for reverse transcription carried out using random hexanucleotide primers and SUPERSCRIPT III (Gibco BRL) in a 20 μl reaction according to provided protocol. PCR with DDX11L-specific primers was performed using 1 μl of the reverse transcription reaction as template in either a standard PCR reaction set-up with AmpliTaq Gold (Perkin Elmer). In each experiment, a sample without reverse transcriptase was amplified under the same conditions as the reverse-transcribed RNA. PCR products were purified from agarose gels by the QIAGEN Gel extraction Kit and directly sequenced on an automated sequencer using the ABI-PRISM big-dye terminator cycle sequencing ready reaction kit (Applied Biosystem). Oligonucleotide primers used in RT-PCR experiments were CHLRTF (5'-TTC TGG CCC CTG TTG TCT GC-3'), CHL1F (5'-GGG AAA GAT TGG AGG AAA GAT-3'), CHL1R (5'-ATT TCT CAC TGC CTT TTG TCT G-3'), CHL2F (5'-AGT TCA CTC CTG CCT TTT CCT T-3'), CHL3F (5'-CTT GCC GTC AGC CTT TTC TTT G-3'), CHL3R (5'-ACT GAC CCC GAC ACG TTT GCA T-3').
The genomic fragment of 1837 bp, used as FISH probe, was amplified from somatic hybrid cell line containing human chromosome 3 as the only human contribution, using the oligonucleotide pair CHL3F (described above) and CHLS1R (5'-TCC GTG AGA TCT TCC CAG GG-3'). We used this primer pair in order to cover a genomic region with the highest sequence similarity among human autosomes. Metaphase preparations were obtained from lymphoblastoid or fibroblast cell lines of the following species: human (Homo sapiens, HSA), common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes, PTR), gorilla (Gorilla gorilla, GGO), Borneo orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus, PPY). Three different human individuals were examined. FISH experiments were performed essentially as described by Lichter et al.  with minor modifications. Digital images were obtained using a Leica DMRXA2 epifluorescence microscope equipped with a cooled CCD camera (Princeton Instruments, NJ, USA). Cy3 and DAPI fluorescence signals, detected with specific filters, were recorded separately as gray-scale images. Pseudocoloring and merging of images were performed using Adobe Photoshop software.
The authors would like to thank Mss. M. Terracciano for technical assistance. V. Costa is Ph.D. student in Science of Metabolism and Aging at the Second University of Naples. Legge 5 – Regione Campania, supported this work.
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