Biomedical Research and Study Centre, University of Latvia, Ratsupites St 1, LV-1067 Riga, Latvia.
Recent genomewide analyses of alternative splicing (AS) indicate that up to 70% of human genes may have alternative splice forms, suggesting that AS together with various posttranslational modifications plays a major role in the production of proteome complexity. Splice-site selection under normal physiological conditions is regulated in the developmental stage in a tissue type-specific manner by changing the concentrations and the activity of splicing regulatory proteins. Whereas spliceosomal errors resulting in the production of aberrant transcripts rarely occur in normal cells, they seem to be an intrinsic property of cancer cells. Changes in splice-site selection have been observed in various types of cancer and may affect genes implicated in tumor progression (for example, CD44, MDM2, and FHIT) and in susceptibility to cancer (for example, BRCA1 and APC). Splicing defects can arise from inherited or somatic mutations in cis-acting regulatory elements (splice donor, acceptor and branch sites, and exonic and intronic splicing enhancers and silencers) or variations in the composition, concentration, localization, and activity of regulatory proteins. This may lead to altered efficiency of splice-site recognition, resulting in overexpression or down-regulation of certain splice variants, a switch in splice-site usage, or failure to recognize splice sites correctly, resulting in cancer-specific splice forms. At least in some cases, changes in splicing have been shown to play a functionally significant role in tumorigenesis, either by inactivating tumor suppressors or by gain of function of proteins promoting tumor development. Moreover, cancer-specific splicing events may generate novel epitopes that can be recognized by the host's immune system as cancer specific and may serve as targets for immunotherapy. Thus, the identification of cancer-specific splice forms provides a novel source for the discovery of diagnostic or prognostic biomarkers and tumor antigens suitable as targets for therapeutic intervention.