A pseudogene related to the functional gene (FECH) for the heme biosynthetic enzyme ferrochelatase (ferroheme-protolyase; EC 18.104.22.168.) was isolated from a human genomic library using a ferrochelatase cDNA hybridization probe. The pseudogene shows >80% overall nucleotide sequence identity to the functional gene (including the 3' untranslated region and polyadenylation signals) but contains no intronic sequences in the region corresponding to the open reading frame of expressed ferrochelatase. Furthermore, the pseudogene sequence contains small deletions and insertions creating frameshifts and numerous termination codons, indicating that it does not encode a functional polypeptide. Northern blot analysis using pseudogene- specific probes failed to demonstrate transcripts in samples of human erythroid cell RNA in which ferrochelatase mRNA was readily detected. Southern blot experiments using restriction endonuclease-digested human genomic DNA probed either with ferrochelatase-specific cDNA fragments or pseudogene-specific genomic sequences confirmed the presence of distinct loci for the expressed and nonfunctional genes, respectively. Localization of the human ferrochelatase pseudogene to 3p22-p23 was determined by fluorescent metaphase chromosomal hybridization in situ using three genomic clones in λEMBL3 spanning a contiguous region of ~30 kb. This newly identified locus, distinct from the expressed FECH gene, on 18q22, is characteristic of a processed human pseudogene. The existence of the ferrochelatase pseudogene has practical implications for the molecular analysis of mutations responsible for erythropoietic protoporphyria in man.
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