Immunologically cross-reactive isoforms of the cytoskeletal element protein 4.1 have been identified in many tissues in which they exhibit heterogeneity of molecular weight, abundance, and intracellular localization. To examine the basis for isoform production in erythroid and nonerythroid tissues, we have compared the structure and expression of cDNAs isolated from human erythroid and nonerythroid sources. We have encountered cDNAs representing many distinct mRNA sequences. These exhibit complete nucleotide sequence homology along most of their lengths. Differences were confined to five sequence blocks designated Motifs I-V, which were present or absent in each mRNA moiety. Motif I was expressed only in erythroid cells; it encodes 21 amino acids in a well-characterized spectrin/actin binding domain. Motif II, located near the COOH terminus of the 80-kD "erythroid" protein 4.1 molecule is present in the vast majority of transcripts from both erythroid and nonerythroid cells. Motifs IV and V alter the 5' untranslated region: simultaneous insertion of Motif IV and deletion of Motif V in the untranslated region inserts a new initiator methionine and establishes a contiguous open reading frame encoding a novel 135-kD protein 4.1 molecule. By immunochemical analysis we have identified the longer isoform in cells. Our results are most consistent with tissue-specific alternative mRNA splicing of transcripts of the protein 4.1 gene to yield numerous isoforms. These isoforms exhibit tissue specificity and alter strategic portions of the molecule. Moreover, we describe a novel high molecular weight form of protein 4.1 that arises by splicing events which allow translation at an upstream site.

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