A two-promoter system of gene expression in C. elegans

Dev Biol. 2006 Aug 15;296(2):537-44. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2006.04.470. Epub 2006 May 5.


The development of multicellular organisms requires precise spatiotemporal gene expression and the expression of cell/tissue specific isoforms of some genes. This task may require more efficient genome organization in Caenorhabditis elegans and other organisms with relatively small genome size. The SL1 leader sequence is trans-spliced to many mRNAs in C. elegans. We hypothesize that introns coupled to internal SL1 acceptors contain independent promoters. We identify 238 genes that have introns coupled to internal SL1 acceptors. We find that the mean length of the internal SL1-coupled introns is significantly longer than the genome mean. For twelve of the genes, evidence exists that the intronic promoter provides tissue specificity different from that of the primary promoter. We estimate that 2.7% of the genome is regulated through this two-promoter system. We propose that internal SL1-coupled introns function as independent promoters and that this two-promoter system represents a major mechanism in C. elegans, in addition to alternative splicing, that serves to promote tissue-specific expression of protein isoforms. Our finding of the frequent coupling between an internal SL1 and a large immediately upstream intron will make promoters and transcription start sites predictable.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / physiology*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Protein Isoforms / biosynthesis
  • Protein Isoforms / genetics
  • RNA, Spliced Leader / genetics


  • Protein Isoforms
  • RNA, Spliced Leader