Microsomal epoxide hydrolase (mEH, EPHX1) is a critical xenobiotic-metabolizing enzyme, catalyzing both detoxification and bioactivation reactions that direct the disposition of chemical epoxides, including the carcinogenic metabolites of several polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Recently, we discovered that a previously unrecognized and primate-specific EPHX1 transcript, termed E1-b, was actually the predominant driver of EPHX1 expression in all human tissues. In this study, we identify another human EPHX1 transcript, designated as E1-b'. Unusually, both the E1-b and E1-b' mRNA transcripts are generated from the use of a far upstream gene promoter, localized ∼18.5 kb 5'-upstream of the EPHX1 protein-coding region. Although expressed at comparatively lower levels than E1-b, the novel E1-b' transcript is readily detected in all tissues examined, with highest levels maintained in human ovary. The E1-b' mRNA possesses unusual functional features in its 5'-untranslated region, including a GC-rich leader sequence and two upstream AUGs that encode for short peptides of 26 and 17 amino acids in length, respectively. Results from in vitro transcription/translation assays and direct transfection in mammalian cells of either the E1-b' transcript or the encoded peptides demonstrated that the E1-b' upstream open reading frames (uORFs) are functional, with their presence markedly inhibiting the translation of EPHX1 protein, both in cis and in trans configurations. These unique uORF peptides exhibit no homology to any other known uORF sequences but likely function to mediate post-transcription regulation of EPHX1 and perhaps more broadly as translational regulators in human cells.
Keywords: 5′-untranslated region (5′ UTR); EPHX1; gene expression; microsomal epoxide hydrolase; translational regulation; upstream open reading frame (uORF).