The complex set of late transcripts from the Drosophila sex determination gene sex-lethal encodes multiple related polypeptides

Mark E. Samuels, Paul Schedl, Thomas W. Cline

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Sex-lethal (Sxl), a key sex determination gene in Drosophila melanogaster, is known to express a set of three early transcripts arising during early embryogenesis and a set of seven late transcripts occurring from midembryogenesis through adulthood. Among the late transcripts, male-specific mRNAs were distinguished from their female counterparts by the presence of an extra exon interrupting an otherwise long open reading frame (ORF). We have now analyzed the structures of the late Sxl transcripts by cDNA sequencing, Northern (RNA) blotting, primer extension, and RNase protection. The late transcripts appear to use a common 5′ end but differ at their 3′ ends by the use of alternative polyadenylation sites. Two of these sites lack canonical AATAAA sequences, and their use correlates in females with the presence of a functional germ line, suggesting possible tissue-specific polyadenylation. Besides the presence of the male-specific exon, no additional sex-specific splicing events were detected, although a number of non-sex-specific splicing variants were observed. In females, the various forms of late Sxl transcript potentially encode up to six slightly different polypeptides. All of the protein-coding differences occur outside the previously defined ribonucleoprotein motifs. One class of Sxl mRNAs also includes a second long ORF in the same frame as the first ORF but separated from it by a single ochre codon. The function of this second ORF is unknown. Significant amounts of apparently partially processed Sxl RNAs were observed, consistent with the hypothesis that the regulated Sxl splices occur relatively slowly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3584-3602
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1991

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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