Introns are flanked by a partially conserved coding sequence that forms the immediate exon junction sequence following intron removal from pre-mRNA. Phylogenetic evidence indicates that these sequences have been targeted by numerous intron insertions during evolution, but little is known about this process. Here, we test the prediction that exon junction sequences were functional splice sites that existed in the coding sequence of genes prior to the insertion of introns. To do this, we experimentally identified nine cryptic splice sites within the coding sequence of actin genes from humans, Arabidopsis, and Physarum by inactivating their normal intron splice sites. We found that seven of these cryptic splice sites correspond exactly to the positions of exon junctions in actin genes from other species. Because actin genes are highly conserved, we could conclude that at least seven actin introns are flanked by cryptic splice sites, and from the phylogenetic evidence, we could also conclude that actin introns were inserted into these cryptic splice sites during evolution. Furthermore, our results indicate that these insertion events were dependent upon the splicing machinery. Because most introns are flanked by similar sequences, our results are likely to be of general relevance.
Sadusky, T., Newman, A. J., & Dibb, N. J. (2004). Exon junction sequences as cryptic splice sites: Implications for intron origin. Current Biology, 14(6), 505–509. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2004.02.063