Identification of cell-type specific alternative transcripts in the multicellular alga Volvox carteri

Ravi Nicholas Balasubramanian, Minglu Gao, James Umen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Cell type specialization is a hallmark of complex multicellular organisms and is usually established through implementation of cell-type-specific gene expression programs. The multicellular green alga Volvox carteri has just two cell types, germ and soma, that have previously been shown to have very different transcriptome compositions which match their specialized roles. Here we interrogated another potential mechanism for differentiation in V. carteri, cell type specific alternative transcript isoforms (CTSAI). Methods: We used pre-existing predictions of alternative transcripts and de novo transcript assembly with HISAT2 and Ballgown software to compile a list of loci with two or more transcript isoforms, identified a small subset that were candidates for CTSAI, and manually curated this subset of genes to remove false positives. We experimentally verified three candidates using semi-quantitative RT-PCR to assess relative isoform abundance in each cell type. Results: Of the 1978 loci with two or more predicted transcript isoforms 67 of these also showed cell type isoform expression biases. After curation 15 strong candidates for CTSAI were identified, three of which were experimentally verified, and their predicted gene product functions were evaluated in light of potential cell type specific roles. A comparison of genes with predicted alternative splicing from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a unicellular relative of V. carteri, identified little overlap between ortholog pairs with alternative splicing in both species. Finally, we interrogated cell type expression patterns of 126 V. carteri predicted RNA binding protein (RBP) encoding genes and found 40 that showed either somatic or germ cell expression bias. These RBPs are potential mediators of CTSAI in V. carteri and suggest possible pre-adaptation for cell type specific RNA processing and a potential path for generating CTSAI in the early ancestors of metazoans and plants. Conclusions: We predicted numerous instances of alternative transcript isoforms in Volvox, only a small subset of which showed cell type specific isoform expression bias. However, the validated examples of CTSAI supported existing hypotheses about cell type specialization in V. carteri, and also suggested new hypotheses about mechanisms of functional specialization for their gene products. Our data imply that CTSAI operates as a minor but important component of V. carteri cellular differentiation and could be used as a model for how alternative isoforms emerge and co-evolve with cell type specialization.

Original languageEnglish
Article number654
JournalBMC genomics
Volume24
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Keywords

  • Chlamydomonas
  • Convergent transcription
  • Evolution
  • Gonidia
  • Multicellularity
  • Soma
  • Transcript isoforms
  • Volvocine

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