The myosin light chain kinase (MLCK) gene, a muscle member of the immunoglobulin gene superfamily, yields both smooth muscle and nonmuscle cell isoforms. Both isoforms are known to regulate contractile activity via calcium/calmodulin-dependent myosin light chain phosphorylation. We previously cloned from a human endothelial cell (EC) cDNA library a high- molecular-weight nonmuscle MLCK isoform (EC MLCK (MLCK 1) with an open reading frame that encodes a protein of 1914 amino acids. We now describe four novel nonmuscle MLCK isoforms (MLCK 2, 3a, 3b, and 4) that are the alternatively spliced variants of an mRNA precursor that is transcribed from a single human MLCK gene. The primary structure of the cDNA encoding the nonmuscle MLCK isoform 2 is identical to the previously published human nonmuscle MLCK (MLCK 1) (J. G. N. Garcia et al., 1997, Am. J. Respir. Cell Mol. Biol. 16, 489-494) except for a deletion of nucleotides 1428-1634 (D2). The full nucleotide sequence of MLCK isoforms 3a and 3b and partial sequence for MLCK isoform 4 revealed identity to MLCK 1 except for deletions at nucleotides 5081-5233 (MLCK 3a, D3), double deletions of nucleotides 1428- 1634 and 5081-5233 (MLCK 3b), and nucleotide deletions 45344737 (MLCK 4, D4). Northern blot analysis demonstrated the extended expression pattern of the nonmuscle MLCK isoform(s) in both human adult and human fetal tissues. RT- PCR using primer pairs that were designed to detect specifically nonmuscle MLCK isoforms 2, 3, and 4 deletions (D2, D3, and D4) confirmed expression in both human adult and human fetal tissues (lung, liver, brain, and kidney) and in human endothelial cells (umbilical vein and dermal). Furthermore, relative quantitative expression studies demonstrated that the nonmuscle MLCK isoform 2 is the dominant splice variant expressed in human tissues and cells. Further analysis of the human MLCK gene revealed that the MLCK 2 isoform represents the deletion of an independent exon flanked by 5' and 3' neighboring introns of 0.6 and 7.0 kb, respectively. Together these studies demonstrate for the first time that the human MLCK gene yields multiple nonmuscle MLCK isoforms by alternative splicing of its transcribed mRNA precursor with differential distribution of these isoforms in various human tissues and cells.
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