Trans-splicing of leader sequences onto the 5′ends of mRNAs is a widespread phenomenon in protozoa, nematodes and some chordates. Using parallel sequencing we have developed a method to simultaneously map 5′splice sites and analyze the corresponding gene expression profile, that we term spliced leader trapping (SLT). The method can be applied to any organism with a sequenced genome and trans-splicing of a conserved leader sequence. We analyzed the expression profiles and splicing patterns of bloodstream and insect forms of the parasite Trypanosoma brucei. We detected the 5′ splice sites of 85% of the annotated protein-coding genes and, contrary to previous reports, found up to 40% of transcripts to be differentially expressed. Furthermore, we discovered more than 2500 alternative splicing events, many of which appear to be stage-regulated. Based on our findings we hypothesize that alternatively spliced transcripts present a new means of regulating gene expression and could potentially contribute to protein diversity in the parasite. The entire dataset can be accessed online at TriTrypDB or through: http://splicer.unibe.ch/.
Some organisms like the human and animal parasite Trypanosoma brucei add a leader sequence to their mRNAs through a reaction called trans-splicing. Until now the splice sites for most mRNAs were unknown in T. brucei. Using high throughput sequencing we have developed a method to identify the splice sites and at the same time measure the abundance of the corresponding mRNAs. Analyzing three different life cycle stages of the parasite we identified the vast majority of splice sites in the organism and, to our great surprise, uncovered more than 2500 alternative splicing events, many of which appeared to be specific for one of the life cycle stages. Alternative splicing is a result of the addition of the leader sequence to different positions on the mRNA, leading to mixed mRNA populations that can encode for proteins with varying properties. One of the most obvious changes caused by alternative splicing is the gain or loss of targeting signals, leading to differential localization of the corresponding proteins. Based on our findings we hypothesize that alternative splicing is a major mechanism to regulate gene expression in T. brucei and could contribute to protein diversity in the parasite.