Neurexins constitute a family of proteins originally identified as synaptic transmembrane receptors for a spider venom toxin. In mammals, the 3 known Neurexin genes present 2 alternative promoters that drive the synthesis of a long (α) and a short (β) form and contain different sites of alternative splicing (AS) that can give rise to thousands of different transcripts. To date, very little is known about the significance of this variability, except for the modulation of binding to some of the Neurexin ligands. Although orthologs of Neurexins have been isolated in invertebrates, these genes have been studied mostly in mammals. With the aim of investigating their functions in lower vertebrates, we chose Danio rerio as a model because of its increasing importance in comparative biology. We have isolated 6 zebrafish homologous genes, which are highly conserved at the structural level and display a similar regulation of AS, despite about 450 Myr separating the human and zebrafish species. Our data indicate a strong selective pressure at the exonic level and on the intronic borders, in particular on the regulative intronic sequences that flank the exons subject to AS. Such a selective pressure could help conserve the regulation and consequently the function of these genes along the vertebrates evolutive tree. AS analysis during development shows that all genes are expressed and finely regulated since the earliest stages of development, but mark an increase after the 24-h stage that corresponds to the beginning of synaptogenesis. Moreover, we found that specific isoforms of a zebrafish Neurexin gene (nrxn1a) are expressed in the adult testis and in the earliest stages of development, before the beginning of zygotic transcription, indicating a potential delivery of paternal RNA to the embryo. Our analysis suggests the existence of possible new functions for Neurexins, serving as the basis for novel approaches to the functional studies of this complex neuronal protein family and more in general to the understanding of the AS mechanism in low vertebrates.
- Alternative splicing
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Molecular Biology