Programmed gene rearrangements altering gene expression

Science  06 Feb 1987:
Vol. 235, Issue 4789, pp. 658-667
DOI: 10.1126/science.3544215


Programmed gene rearrangements are used in nature to to alter gene copy number (gene amplification and deletion), to create diversity by reassorting gene segments (as in the formation of mammalian immunoglobulin genes), or to control the expression of a set of genes that code for the same function (such as surface antigens). Two major mechanisms for expression control are DNA inversion and DNA transposition. In DNA inversion a DNA segment flips around and is rejoined by site-specific recombination, disconnecting or connecting a gene to sequences required for its expression. In DNA transposition a gene moves into an expression site where it displaces its predecessor by gene conversion. Gene rearrangements altering gene expression have mainly been found in some unicellular organisms. They allow a fraction of the organisms to preadapt to sudden changes in environment, that is, to alter properties such as surface antigens in the absence of an inducing stimulus. The antigenic variation that helps the causative agents of African trypanosomiasis, gonorrhea, and relapsing fever to elude host defense is controlled in this way.

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