Alternative splicing is a key cellular mechanism for generating distinct isoforms, whose relative abundances regulate critical cellular processes. It is therefore essential that inclusion levels of alternative exons be tightly regulated. However, how the precision of inclusion levels among individual cells is governed is poorly understood. Using single-cell gene expression, we show that the precision of inclusion levels of alternative exons is determined by the degree of evolutionary conservation at their flanking intronic regions. Moreover, the inclusion levels of alternative exons, as well as the expression levels of the transcripts harboring them, also contribute to this precision. We further show that alternative exons whose inclusion levels are considerably changed during stem cell differentiation are also subject to this regulation. Our results imply that alternative splicing is coordinately regulated to achieve accuracy in relative isoform abundances and that such accuracy may be important in determining cell fate.
Keywords: alternative splicing; evolutionary conservation; inclusion level; single cell; splicing regulation.
© 2015 The Authors. Published under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license.