Analysis of Pathogenic Pseudoexons Reveals Novel Mechanisms Driving Cryptic Splicing

Niall P. Keegan, Steve D. Wilton, Sue Fletcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding pre-mRNA splicing is crucial to accurately diagnosing and treating genetic diseases. However, mutations that alter splicing can exert highly diverse effects. Of all the known types of splicing mutations, perhaps the rarest and most difficult to predict are those that activate pseudoexons, sometimes also called cryptic exons. Unlike other splicing mutations that either destroy or redirect existing splice events, pseudoexon mutations appear to create entirely new exons within introns. Since exon definition in vertebrates requires coordinated arrangements of numerous RNA motifs, one might expect that pseudoexons would only arise when rearrangements of intronic DNA create novel exons by chance. Surprisingly, although such mutations do occur, a far more common cause of pseudoexons is deep-intronic single nucleotide variants, raising the question of why these latent exon-like tracts near the mutation sites have not already been purged from the genome by the evolutionary advantage of more efficient splicing. Possible answers may lie in deep intronic splicing processes such as recursive splicing or poison exon splicing. Because these processes utilize intronic motifs that benignly engage with the spliceosome, the regions involved may be more susceptible to exonization than other intronic regions would be. We speculated that a comprehensive study of reported pseudoexons might detect alignments with known deep intronic splice sites and could also permit the characterisation of novel pseudoexon categories. In this report, we present and analyse a catalogue of over 400 published pseudoexon splice events. In addition to confirming prior observations of the most common pseudoexon mutation types, the size of this catalogue also enabled us to suggest new categories for some of the rarer types of pseudoexon mutation. By comparing our catalogue against published datasets of non-canonical splice events, we also found that 15.7% of pseudoexons exhibit some splicing activity at one or both of their splice sites in non-mutant cells. Importantly, this included seven examples of experimentally confirmed recursive splice sites, confirming for the first time a long-suspected link between these two splicing phenomena. These findings have the potential to improve the fidelity of genetic diagnostics and reveal new targets for splice-modulating therapies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number806946
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2022


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