Cis-Acting Elements Regulate Alternative Splicing of Exons 6a, 6b and 8 of the α1(XI) Collagen Gene and Contribute to the Regional Diversification of Collagen XI Matrices

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Consecutive exons 6A, 6B, 7 and 8 that encode the variable region of the amino-terminal domain (NTD) of the col11a1 gene product undergo a complex pattern of alternative splicing that is both tissue-dependent and developmentally regulated. Expression of col11a1 is predominantly associated with cartilage where it plays a critical role in skeletal development. At least five splice-forms (6B-7-8, 6A-7-8, 7-8, 6B-7 and 7) are found in cartilage. Splice-forms containing exon 6B or 8 have distinct distributions in the long bone during development, while in non-cartilage tissues, splice-form 6A-7-8 is typically expressed. In order to study this complex and tissue-specific alternative splicing, a mini-gene that contains mouse genomic sequence from exon 5 to 11, flanking the variable region of α1(XI)-NTD, was constructed. The minigene was transfected into chondrocytic (RCS) and non-chondrocytic (A204) cell lines that endogenously express α1(XI), as well as 293 cells which do not express α1(XI). Alternative splicing in RCS and A204 cells reflected the appropriate cartilage and non-cartilage patterns while 293 cells produced only 6A-7-8. This suggests that 6A-7-8 is the default splicing pathway and that cell or tissue-specific trans-acting factors are required to obtain pattern of the alternative splicing of α1(XI) pre-mRNA observed in chondrocytes. Deletional analysis was used to identify cis-acting regions important for regulating splicing. The presence of the intact exon 7 was required to generate the full complex chondrocytic pattern of splicing. Furthermore, deletional mapping of exon 6B identified sequences required for expression of exon 6B in RCS cells and these may correspond to purine-rich (ESE) and AC-rich (ACE) exonic splicing enhancers.