We present evidence for RNA transcripts encoding two forms of human epsilon immunoglobulin (Ig) heavy chain that differ significantly from those of other isotypes. We previously demonstrated three human epsilon mRNA species, instead of the two, corresponding to membrane and secreted proteins, seen with other heavy chain transcripts. In human genomic DNA downstream of the C epsilon gene, we identified sequences homologous to the two putative murine exons M1 (encoding a hydrophobic, presumably transmembrane region) and M2 (encoding hydrophilic residues). To determine the structures of epsilon transcripts containing these sequences, we amplified epsilon-related RNAs with the reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. RNA was examined from fresh human B cells stimulated to IgE production by interleukin 4 plus anti-CD40, as well as from the human IgE-producing line AF10. Instead of the single CH4-M1-M2 splice product predicted for murine membrane IgE, we found two other RNA species. One form has the structure CH4-M1'-M2, in which M1' includes the human sequence homologous to the murine M1 as well as a unique segment of 52 codons further upstream in the genomic sequence; this RNA species apparently encodes the IgE expressed on the membrane of IgE-producing lymphocytes. The other RNA has the structure CH4-M2', in which M2' is spliced in an alternative reading frame that includes an additional 109 codons downstream of the termination codon of the CH4-M1'-M2 form. Because the CH4-M2' mRNA form does not encode a hydrophobic segment, its translated product should be secreted. A secreted epsilon protein of approximately the size predicted for this form was identified by Western blotting. This novel IgE protein could play a significant and distinctive role in allergic disorders.

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