It is generally recognized that CpG islands are not methylated in normal tissues. SPHK1 is a key enzyme catalyzing the production of sphingosine 1-phosphate, a novel signaling molecule for the proliferation and differentiation of various cells, including neural cells. Sequencing of genomic DNA and cDNA reveals that rat Sphk1a consists of six exons encoding 383 amino acids. Furthermore, we identified six alternative first exons for mRNA subtypes (Sphk1a, -b, -c, -d, -e, and -f) within a 3.7-kb CpG island. The CpG island contains a tissue-dependent, differentially methylated region (T-DMR; ∼ 200 bp), which is located ∼ 800 bp upstream of the first exon of Sphk1a. T-DMR is hypomethylated in the adult brain where Sphk1a is expressed, whereas it is hypermethylated in the adult heart where the gene is not expressed. In fetal tissues, hypomethylation of T-DMR is not associated with expression of Sphk1a, which suggests that differential availability of transcription factors is also likely to be involved in the mechanism of its expression. Here, we identify rat Sphk1, using multiple alternative first exons for the subtypes, and demonstrate that there is a CpG island bearing T-DMR.
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