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The apolipoprotein multigene family: Structure, expression, evolution, and molecular genetics

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The plasma apolipoproteins can be classified into two subgroups: the soluble apolipoproteins including apolipoprotein (apo) A-I, A-II, A-IV, C-I, C-II, C-III, and E, and the apoBs including apoB-100 and apoB-48. The soluble apolipoproteins have very similar genomic structures, each having a total of three introns at the same locations; apoA-IV is an exception in that it has lost its first intron. Using the exon/intron junctions as reference points, we can obtain an alignment of the coding regions of all the soluble apolipoprotein genes. The mature peptide regions of the genes are almost completely made up of tandem repeats of 11 codons. The part of mature peptide region encoded by exon 3 contains a common block of 33 codons, whereas the part encoded by exon 4 contains a much more variable number of internal repeats of 11 codons. On the basis of the degree of homology of the various sequences, and the pattern of the internal repeats in these genes, an evolutionary tree has been proposed for the soluble apolipoprotein genes. ApoB-100 differs considerably from the soluble apolipoproteins. It is the largest apolipoprotein containing 4536 amino acid residues. Two types of internal repeats are identified in apoB-100: amphipathic α-helical repeats and proline-containing repeats with high β-sheet content. The apoB gene contains 29 exons and 28 introns. Its evolutionary relationship to the soluble apolipoprotein genes is unclear. The 3′ end of the apoB gene contains a region of variable number of tandem 12–16-base pair repeats. We have applied the polymerase chain reaction technique to characterize this highly polymorphic locus. The same technique can be used to accurately type other variable number of tandem repeats loci. Finally, apoB-48 was shown to be the product of an RNA editing mechanism involving an intestinal mRNA that has an in-frame UAA stop codon resulting from a C→U change in the codon CAA encoding Gln-2153 in apoB-100 mRNA. Using a molecular approach to apolipoprotein synthesis, structure and genetic analysis, we have generated information important to our understanding of lipoprotein metabolism; we also uncovered unexpected experimental results that are relevant to general cell and molecular biology and molecular evolution.

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low density lipoproteins


high density lipoproteins


intermediate density lipoproteins




messenger ribonucleic acid


variable number of tandem repeats


polymerase chain reaction


million years


restriction fragment length polymorphism(s)


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Heinrich-Wieland Prize lecture delivered on October 28, 1988

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Chan, L. The apolipoprotein multigene family: Structure, expression, evolution, and molecular genetics. Klin Wochenschr 67, 225–237 (1989).

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Key words

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Apolipoprotein
  • Gene expression
  • Genetics
  • Evolution
  • Gene duplication
  • Lipid binding
  • DNA polymorphism
  • Hypercholesterolemia