Tissue-specific alternative mRNA splicing of phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PNMT) during development by intron retention

Int J Dev Neurosci. 1999 Feb;17(1):45-55. doi: 10.1016/s0736-5748(98)00058-6.


The expression of phenylethanolamine N-methyl transferase (EC 2., PNMT), the final enzyme in the cascade of catecholamine synthesis, is differentially regulated in adrenergic neurons in the brain and in adrenal chromaffin cells. Using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction-based techniques, we detected in the prenatal developing rat brainstem, two species of PNMT mRNA which were produced by a rare alternative splicing mechanism known as intron retention. The spliced, intronless message was downregulated postnatally, while the intron-retained mRNA species continued to be constitutively expressed through adulthood. By contrast in the adrenals, at all stages of development examined, only the intronless message was expressed. In line with previous reports on the failure of glucocorticoids to induce PNMT expression in the brain, the pattern of PNMT splicing in brainstem explants was not affected by the presence of the synthetic glucocorticoid dexamethasone. Undifferentiated sympathoadrenal PC12 pheochromocytoma cells expressed very low basal levels of both mRNA variants, accompanied by a very low basal PNMT enzymatic activity. Exposure of PC12 cells to dexamethasone resulted in the upregulation of only the spliced mRNA variant concomitant with a 3-fold increase in PNMT enzymatic activity. In contrast, treatment of PC 12 cells with nerve growth factor (NGF) enhanced the expression of both the intron-retained and the intronless mRNA species without changes in the basal enzyme activity. This latter result suggests that the translation of the intronless mRNA species may be regulated by the intron-retained mRNA species, which by itself may yield a truncated, yet enzymatically functional translational product. Our data suggest that the tissue-specific regulation of PNMT expression is based on a rare alternative splicing mechanism termed intron retention, and that in the adrenal, but not in the brain, this mechanism is sensitive to regulation by glucocorticoids. Thus, this system is uniquely suited for studying the hormonal control of tissue-specific splicing in the nervous system.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Medulla / embryology
  • Adrenal Medulla / enzymology*
  • Adrenal Medulla / growth & development
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Brain Stem / embryology
  • Brain Stem / enzymology*
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology
  • Electrophoresis, Agar Gel
  • Enzyme Induction / drug effects
  • Fetal Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Fetal Proteins / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Glucocorticoids / physiology
  • Introns / genetics*
  • Isoenzymes / biosynthesis
  • Isoenzymes / genetics*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neoplasm Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Growth Factors / pharmacology
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics*
  • Organ Specificity
  • PC12 Cells / drug effects
  • PC12 Cells / enzymology
  • Phenylethanolamine N-Methyltransferase / biosynthesis
  • Phenylethanolamine N-Methyltransferase / genetics*
  • RNA Splicing*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid


  • Fetal Proteins
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Isoenzymes
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Dexamethasone
  • Phenylethanolamine N-Methyltransferase