BACKGROUND: FU is the human homologue of the Drosophila gene fused whose product fused is a positive regulator of the transcription factor Cubitus interruptus (Ci). Thus, FU may act as a regulator of the human counterparts of Ci, the GLI transcription factors. Since Ci and GLI are targets of Hedgehog signaling in development and morphogenesis, it is expected that FU plays an important role in Sonic, Desert and/or Indian Hedgehog induced cellular signaling. RESULTS: The FU gene was identified on chromosome 2q35 at 217.56 Mb and its exon-intron organization determined. The human developmental disorder Syndactyly type 1 (SD1) maps to this region on chromosome 2 and the FU coding region was sequenced using genomic DNA from an affected individual in a linked family. While no FU mutations were found, three single nucleotide polymorphisms were identified. The expression pattern of FU was thoroughly investigated and all examined tissues express FU. It is also clear that different tissues express transcripts of different sizes and some tissues express more than one transcript. By means of nested PCR of specific regions in RT/PCR generated cDNA, it was possible to verify two alternative splicing events. This also suggests the existence of at least two additional protein isoforms besides the FU protein that has previously been described. This long FU and a much shorter isoform were compared for the ability to regulate GLI1 and GLI2. None of the FU isoforms showed any effects on GLI1 induced transcription but the long form can enhance GLI2 activity. Apparently FU did not have any effect on SUFU induced inhibition of GLI. CONCLUSIONS: The FU gene and its genomic structure was identified. FU is a candidate gene for SD1, but we have not identified a pathogenic mutation in the FU coding region in a family with SD1. The sequence information and expression analyses show that transcripts of different sizes are expressed and subjected to alternative splicing. Thus, mRNAs may contain different 5'UTRs and encode different protein isoforms. Furthermore, FU is able to enhance the activity of GLI2 but not of GLI1, implicating FU in some aspects of Hedgehog signaling.
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