Alternative pre-mRNA splicing expands the coding capacity of eukaryotic genomes, potentially enabling a limited number of genes to govern the development of complex anatomical structures. Alternative splicing is particularly prevalent in the vertebrate nervous system, where it is required for neuronal development and function. Here, we show that photoreceptor cells, a type of sensory neuron, express a characteristic splicing program that affects a broad set of transcripts and is initiated prior to the development of the light sensing outer segments. Surprisingly, photoreceptors lack prototypical neuronal splicing factors and their splicing profile is driven to a significant degree by the Musashi 1 (MSI1) protein. A striking feature of the photoreceptor splicing program are exons that display a "switch-like" pattern of high inclusion levels in photoreceptors and near complete exclusion outside of the retina. Several ubiquitously expressed genes that are involved in the biogenesis and function of primary cilia produce highly photoreceptor specific isoforms through use of such “switch-like” exons. Our results suggest a potential role for alternative splicing in the development of photoreceptors and the conversion of their primary cilia to the light sensing outer segments.
Murphy, D., Cieply, B., Carstens, R., Ramamurthy, V., & Stoilov, P. (2016). The Musashi 1 Controls the Splicing of Photoreceptor-Specific Exons in the Vertebrate Retina. PLoS Genetics, 12(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1006256