Alternative processing of α-thyroid hormone receptor (TRα, NR1A1) mRNAs gives rise to two functionally antagonistic nuclear receptors: TRα1, the α-type receptor, and TRα2, a non-hormone binding variant that is found only in mammals. TRα2 shares an unusual antisense coding overlap with mRNA for Rev-erbα (NR1D1), another nuclear receptor protein. In this study we examine the structure and expression of these genes in the gray short-tailed opossum, Monodelphis domestica, in comparison with that of eutherian mammals and three other marsupial species, Didelphis virginiana, Potorous tridactylus and Macropus eugenii, in order to understand the evolution and regulatory role of this antisense overlap.
The sequence, expression and genomic organization of mRNAs encoding TRα1 and Rev-erbα are very similar in the opossum and eutherian mammals. However, the sequence corresponding to the TRα2 coding region appears truncated by almost 100 amino acids. While expression of TRα1 and Rev-erbα was readily detected in all tissues of M. domestica ages 0 days to 18 weeks, TRα2 mRNA was not detected in any tissue or stage examined. These results contrast with the widespread and abundant expression of TRα2 in rodents and other eutherian mammals. To examine requirements for alternative splicing of TRα mRNAs, a series of chimeric minigenes was constructed. Results show that the opossum TRα2-specific 5' splice site sequence is fully competent for splicing but the sequence homologous to the TRα2 3' splice site is not, even though the marsupial sequences are remarkably similar to core splice site elements in rat.
Our results strongly suggest that the variant nuclear receptor isoform, TRα2, is not expressed in marsupials and that the antisense overlap between TRα and Rev-erbα thus is unique to eutherian mammals. Further investigation of the TRα and Rev-erbα genes in marsupial and eutherian species promises to yield additional insight into the physiological function of TRα2 and the role of the associated antisense overlap with Rev-erbα in regulating expression of these genes.