In Drosophila melanogaster, sex determination in somatic cells is controlled by a cascade of genes whose expression is regulated by alternative splicing [B. S. Baker, Nature (London) 340:521-524,1989; J. Hodgkin, Cell 56:905-906, 1989]. The master switch gene in this hierarchy is Sex-lethal. Sex-lethal is turned on only in females, and an autoregulatory feedback loop which controls alternative splicing maintains this state (L. R. Bell, J. I. Horabin, P. Schedl, and T. W. Cline, Cell 65:229-239, 1991; L. N. Keyes, T. W. Cline, and P. Schedl, Cell 68:933-943, 1992). Sex-lethal also promotes female differentiation by controlling the splicing of RNA from the next gene in the hierarchy, transformer. Sosnowski et al. (B. A. Sosnowski, J. M. Belote, and M. McKeown, Cell 58:449-459, 1989) have shown that the mechanism for generating female transformer transcripts is not through the activation of the alternative splice site but by the blockage of the default splice site. We have tested whether an activation or a blockage mechanism is involved in Sex-lethal autoregulation. The male exon of Sex-lethal with flanking splice sites was placed into the introns of heterologous genes. Our results support the blockage mechanism. The poly(U) run at the male exon 3′ splice site is required for sex-specific splicing. However, unlike transformer, default splicing to the male exon is sensitive to the sequence context within which the exon resides. This and the observation that the splice signals at the exon are suboptimal are discussed with regard to alternate splicing.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology