Decorin is a chondroitin/dermatan sulfate proteoglycan expressed by most vascular and avascular connective tissues and, because of its ability to interact with collagen and growth factors, has been implicated in the control of matrix assembly and cellular growth. To understand the molecular mechanisms involved in regulating its tissue expression, we have isolated a number of genomic clones encoding the complete decorin gene. The human decorin gene spans over 38 kb of continuous DNA sequence and contains eight exons and very large introns, two of which are 5.4 and > 13.2 kb. We have discovered two alternatively spliced leader exons, exons Ia and Ib, in the 5′ untranslated region. These exons were identified by cloning and sequencing cDNAs obtained by polymerase chain reaction amplification of a fibroblast cDNA library. Using Northern blotting or reverse transcriptase PCR, we detected the two leader exons in a variety of mRNAs isolated from human cell lines and tissues. Interestingly, sequences highly (74-87%) homologous to exons Ia and Ib are found in the 5′ untranslated region of avian and bovine decorin, respectively. This high degree of conservation among species suggests regulatory functions for these leader exons. In the 3′ untranslated region there are several polyadenylation sites, and at least two of these sites could give rise to the transcripts of ≈ 1.6 and ≈ 1.9 kb, typically detected in a variety of tissues and cells. Using a genomic clone as the labeled probe and in situ hybridization of human metaphase chromosomes, we have mapped the decorin gene to the discrete region of human chromosome 12q23. This study provides the molecular basis for discerning the transcriptional control of the decorin gene and offers the opportunity to investigate genetic disorders linked to this important human gene.
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