Caution! Analyze transcripts from conditional knockout alleles

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Abstract

A common strategy for conditional knockout alleles is to “flox” (flank with loxP sites) a 5′ exon within the target gene. Typically, the floxed exon does not contain a unit number of codons so that the Cre-mediated recombination event yields a frameshift and a null allele. Documenting recombination within the genomic DNA is often regarded as sufficient proof of a frameshift, and the analysis of transcripts is neglected. We evaluated a previously reported conditional knockout allele for the β-subunit of protein farnesyltransferase. The recombination event in that allele—the excision of exon 3—was predicted to yield a frameshift. However, following the excision of exon 3, exon 4 was skipped by the mRNA splicing machinery, and the predominant transcript from the mutant allele lacked exon 3 and exon 4 sequences. The “Δexon 3–4 transcript” does not contain a frameshift but rather is predicted to encode a protein with a short in-frame deletion. This represents a significant concern when studying an enzyme, since an enzyme with partial function could lead to erroneous conclusions. With thousands of new conditional knockout alleles under construction within mouse mutagenesis consortiums, the protein farnesyltransferase allele holds an important lesson—to characterize knockout alleles at both the DNA and RNA levels.

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