A splice site mutation in the gene of the human type I hair keratin hHa1 results in the expression of a tailless keratin isoform.
In this study, we have elucidated the molecular mechanisms underlying the expression of an acidic 41-kDa protein inherited as an autosomal dominant trait of the hair keratin pattern of about 5% of the human population. We show that this protein is a size variant of the large type I hair cortex keratin hHa1 due to a genetic polymorphism in the hHa1 gene. We detected a G-A substitution in the 5' splice site of intron 6 of the hHa1 gene, which segregates with the 41-kDa protein phenotype in two pedigrees and is responsible for the formation of an abnormally spliced hHa1 mRNA species. The use of an alternative 5' splice site leads to the retention of 41 nucleotides of the initial intron 6 sequences in the mature transcript. The open reading frame of the aberrant mRNA creates a premature stop codon immediately downstream of the mutation site. The resulting hHa1 protein variant, hHa1-t, is about 6-kDa smaller than the 47-kDa hHa1 hair keratin and lacks the complete nonhelical tail domain. We show that the tailless hHa1-t is functional, since both recombinant hHa1 and hHa1-t form identical keratin intermediate filaments when assembled in vitro with a type II hair keratin partner. This finding confirms the view of a noninvolvement of the keratin tail domain in filament assembly and explains the lack of a pathological hair phenotype in hHa1-t positive individuals.