Increasing numbers of sense - antisense transcripts (SATs), which are transcribed from the same chromosomal location but in opposite directions, have been identified in various eukaryotic species, but the biological meanings of most SATs remain unclear. To improve understanding of natural sense - antisense transcription, we performed comparative expression profiling of SATs conserved among humans and mice. Using custom oligo-arrays loaded with probes that represented SATs with both protein-coding and non-protein-coding transcripts, we showed that 33% of the 291 conserved SATs displayed identical expression patterns in the two species. Among these SATs, expressional balance inversion of sense - antisense genes was mostly observed in testis at a tissue-specific manner. Northern analyses of the individual conserved SAT loci revealed that: (i) a smeary hybridization pattern was present in mice, but not in humans, and (2) small RNAs (about 60 to 80 nt) were detected from the exon-overlapping regions of SAT loci. In addition, further analyses showed marked alteration of sense - antisense expression balance throughout spermatogenesis in testis. These results suggest that conserved SAT loci are rich in potential regulatory roles that will help us understand this new class of transcripts underlying the mammalian genome.
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