The aim of this study was to determine the causes of the high heterogeneity, in the number and the length, of the thyrotropin (TSH) β mRNA in the European eel. Northern blot analysis showed that removal of the poly(A) tail did not affect this heterogeneity. PCR amplification on reverse-transcribed pituitary RNAs (RT) showed the main source of heterogeneity to be a highly variable region in the 3' untranslated region (UTR). PCR amplification of the 3' UTR from RTs and genomic DNAs demonstrated that the high variability reflected polymorphism within the eel TSH β gene. Isolation and sequencing of 3' UTR amplification fragments showed that the variable region comprised more or less exact repetitions of a 26-42-bp fragment. The number of repetitions varied from one allele to another. This variable region could be characterized as a minisatellite. In conclusion, instability of a minisatellite in the 3' UTR of the TSH β gene generated the multiple and widely differing TSH β mRNAs.
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