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We have analyzed the structure, origin and expression of the high-molecular-mass muscle-specific variant of vinculin, called meta-vinculin. The meta-vinculin-specific inserts from the human and avian molecules have been isolated and sequenced and the sequences confirmed via cloning of the corresponding cDNA. Comparison of the human, avian and determined porcine sequences revealed cross-species identity in the C-terminal half of the insert. Human and porcine meta-vinculin were highly similar in the insert region, showing only five amino acid exchanges; avian meta-vinculin showed 22 exchanges in the same region compared to human meta-vinculin and exhibited, in addition, one extra amino acid, making 69 in all. Each insert was flanked by characteristic KWSSK motifs.

Evidence for two vinculin mRNA species in human uterus smooth muscle was provided by reverse transcription combined with the polymerase chain reaction, as well as by ribonuclease-mapping analysis of cDNA/mRNA hybrids. One of the mRNA species contained an additional 204-nucleotide insert that precisely encoded the meta-vinculin-specific peptide.

Sequence analysis of the appropriate portion of the human vinculin gene showed that the section coding for the meta-vinculin-specific insert is present as a discrete exon. Thus, meta-vinculin and vinculin mRNA are generated by alternative splicing.