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Analyzing mechanisms of alternative pre-mRNA splicing using in vitro splicing assays.


The development of in vitro assays to analyze pre-mRNA splicing resulted in the discovery of many fundamental features characterizing splicing signals and the machinery that completes this process. Because in vitro assays can be manipulated by various biochemical approaches, the versatility of investigating alternative pre-mRNA splicing in the test tube appears endless. Importantly, modifications in reaction conditions can lead to the accumulation, isolation, and characterization of reaction intermediates, a prerequisite for gaining mechanistic insights into how the spliceosome carries out intron removal, and how regulatory elements assist the general splicing machinery in defining splice sites and alternative exons. These considerable experimental advantages have made the in vitro splicing system a standard assay, even though this approach is independent from RNA transcription and other RNA processing events, and in some respects deviates from the natural process of mRNA biogenesis. Here, we describe the tools and techniques necessary to carry out in vitro splicing assays. Analyses of various experimental designs are presented to highlight the approaches taken to gain insights into the mechanisms by which splice site recognition and activation are communicated with the general splicing machinery. Methods to measure the kinetics of splicing, to observe the formation of the pre-spliceosomal complexes, and to manipulate and modify the in vitro system to resolve the regulatory influences in alternative splicing are presented.

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