Characterization of the ETnII-α endogenous retroviral element in the BALB/cJ Zhx2Afr1 allele
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Integration of mouse endogenous retroviral (MERV) elements is responsible for an estimated 10% of spontaneous mutations that have been characterized in the laboratory mouse. We recently identified a MERV integration in the first intron of the Zinc fingers and homeoboxes 2 (Zhx2) gene in BALB/cJ mice, resulting in reduced Zhx2 expression. This integration is found in BALB/cJ but not in other BALB/c substrains, indicating that it occurred after these substrains separated in the late 1930s. We have characterized this MERV element and show here that it belongs to the ETnII-α class of elements. Our analysis reveals that the Zhx2 ETn element lacks a 69-bp sequence compared to most other ETn elements which may be due to recombination between two identical 13-bp elements. Three mature Zhx2 transcripts are found in the liver of BALB/cJ mice. The major transcript is spliced from Zhx2 exon 1 to the 5′ ETn LTR and is polyadenylated at the 3′ LTR. Of the two less abundant transcripts, one is identical to the wild-type transcript, whereas the second contains 183 bp of ETn sequence spliced between Zhx2 exons 1 and 2. We have also sequenced and analyzed products from the faslpr ETn found in MRL/lpr mice and show that it belongs to the ETnII-β class of elements.