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Three Differentially Expressed Survivin CDNA Variants Encode Proteins With Distinct Antiapoptotic Functions

Edward M. Conway, Saskia Pollefeyt, Jan Cornelissen, Inky DeBaere, Marta Steiner-Mosonyi, Kelly Ong, Mathijs Baens, Désiré Collen, Andre C. Schuh

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Survivin is a member of the inhibitor of apoptosis protein (IAP) family that is believed to play a role in oncogenesis. To elucidate further its physiologic role(s), we have characterized the murinesurvivin gene and complementary DNA (cDNA). The structural organization of the survivin gene, located on chromosome 11E2, is similar to that of its human counterpart, both containing 4 exons. Surprisingly, 3 full-length murine survivin cDNA clones were isolated, predicting the existence of 3 distinct survivin proteins. The longest open reading frame, derived from all 4 exons, predicts a 140-amino acid residue protein, survivin140, similar to human survivin, which contains a single IAP repeat and a COOH-terminal coiled-coil domain that links its function to the cell cycle. A second cDNA, which retains intron 3, predicts the existence of a 121-amino acid protein, survivin121 that lacks the coiled-coil domain. Removal of exon 2-derived sequences by alternative pre-messenger RNA (mRNA) splicing results in a third 40-amino acid residue protein, survivin40, lacking the IAP repeat and coiled-coil structure. Predictably, only recombinant survivin140 and survivin121 inhibited caspase-3 activity. All 3 mRNA species were variably expressed during development from 7.5 days postcoitum. Of the adult tissues surveyed, thymus and testis accumulated high levels of survivin140 mRNA, whereas survivin121-specific transcripts were detected in all tissues, while those representing survivin40 were absent. Human counterparts to the 3 survivin mRNA transcripts were identified in a study of human cells and tissues. The presence of distinct isoforms of survivin that are expressed differentially suggests that survivin plays a complex role in regulating apoptosis.