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Keywords:

  • cleavage and polyadenylation;
  • exon definition;
  • gene expression;
  • intron definition;
  • splicing

Abstract

Enormous phylogenetic variation exists in the number and sizes of introns in protein-coding genes. Although some consideration has been given to the underlying role of the population-genetic environment in defining such patterns, the influence of the intracellular environment remains virtually unexplored. Drawing from observations on interactions between co-transcriptional processes involved in splicing and mRNA 3′-end formation, a mechanistic model is proposed for splice-site recognition that challenges the commonly accepted intron- and exon-definition models. Under the suggested model, splicing factors that outcompete 3′-end processing factors for access to intronic binding sites concurrently favor the recruitment of 3′-end processing factors at the pre-mRNA tail. This hypothesis sheds new light on observations such as the intron-mediated enhancement of gene expression and the negative correlation between intron length and levels of gene expression.