The protein coding sequence of most eukaryotic genes (exons) is interrupted by non-coding parts (introns), which are excised in a process termed splicing. To generate a mature messenger RNA (mRNA) hundreds of combinatorial protein-protein and RNA-protein interactions are required to splice out often very large introns with high fidelity and accuracy. Inherent to splicing is the use of alternative splice sites generating immense proteomic diversity from a limited number of genes. In humans, alternative splicing is a major mode of regulating gene expression, occurs in over 90% of genes and is particularly abundant in the brain. Only recently, it has been recognized that the complexity of the splicing process makes it susceptible to interference by various xenobiotics. These compounds include antineoplastic substances, commonly used drugs and food supplements and cause a spectrum of effects ranging from deleterious inhibition of general splicing to highly specific modifications of alternative splicing affecting only certain genes. Alterations in splicing have been implicated in numerous diseases such as cancer and neurodegeneration. Splicing regulation plays an important role in the execution of programmed cell death. The switch between anti- and pro-apoptotic isoforms by alternative splice site selection and misregulation of a number of splicing factors impacts on cell survival and disease. Here, our current knowledge is summarized on compounds interfering with general and alternative splicing and of the current methodology to study changes in these processes relevant to the field of toxicology and future risk assessments.
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