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Exon – Definition, Types, Structure, Functions

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Michael L Sluss


  1. What is Exon?
  2. Structure of Exon 
  3. Function of Exon
  4. References

What is Exon?

  • An exon is any portion of a gene that will be included in the mature RNA generated by that gene once the introns have been eliminated by RNA splicing.
  • Exon refers to both the DNA sequence within a gene as well as the associated RNA transcript sequence.
  • Introns are deleted and exons are covalently linked during RNA splicing as part of the process of producing mature RNA. In the same way that the complete set of genes for a species comprises the genome, the complete set of exons comprises the exome.
  • American biochemist Walter Gilbert coined the term exon in 1978: “The notion of the cistron… must be replaced by that of a transcription unit containing regions that will be lost from the mature messenger – which I suggest we call introns (for intragenic regions) – alternating with regions that will be expressed – exons.”
  • This specification was initially intended for pre-translationally spliced protein-coding transcripts.
  • Later, the word grew to encompass sequences deleted from rRNA, tRNA, and other noncoding RNAs, as well as RNA molecules originating from various sections of the genome that are ligated through trans-splicing.
What is Exon?
What is Exon? | LadyofHats, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Structure of Exon

  • Exons consist of DNA sequences that are ultimately translated into amino acids and proteins. In the DNA of eukaryotic organisms, exons may be continuous or discontinuous.
  • When the gene is translated into pre-mRNA, both introns and exons are included in the transcript.
  • The introns are then removed from the pre-mRNA by splicing them out of the molecule. The length of mature mRNAs ranges from a few hundred to several thousand nucleotides.
  • Exons and short untranslated regions (UTRs) are components of mature mRNA. The last reading frame comprises of nucleotides organised in triplets and is composed of exons.
  • The reading frame begins with a start codon (often AUG) and concludes with a stop codon.
  • As each amino acid is encoded by a three-nucleotide sequence, the nucleotides are organised into triplets.
  • The illustration represents a gene with three exons. Despite an initial length of almost 13,000 bp, the final gene is 1317 bp in length.
Structure of Exon 
Structure of Exon | Source: https://biologydictionary.net/exon/

Function of Exon

  • Exons are DNA sequences that code for proteins. Different exons code for distinct protein domains. Domains may be encoded by a single exon or numerous exons that have been spliced together. Through exon shuffling, the presence of exons and introns allows for higher molecular evolution.
  • When exons on sister chromosomes are switched during recombination, exon shuffling occurs. This permits the creation of new genes.
  • Through alternative splicing, exons also allow various proteins to be translated from the same gene. When the introns are eliminated, this technique permits the exons to be organised in numerous configurations. Different configurations may involve the removal of an entire exon, the inclusion of a portion of an exon, or the addition of a portion of an intron.
  • Alternative splicing can occur at the same region to generate many forms of a gene with a similar function, such as the human slo gene, or in distinct cell or tissue types, such as the mouse alpha-amylase gene. Alternative splicing and alternative splicing errors can lead to a variety of illnesses, including alcoholism and cancer.
alternative splicing mechanisms which can result in alternative proteins being translated.| Source: https://biologydictionary.net/exon/


  • https://www.genome.gov/genetics-glossary/Exon
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exon
  • https://biologydictionary.net/exon/
  • https://www.news-medical.net/life-sciences/What-are-introns-and-exons.aspx
  • https://www.biologyonline.com/dictionary/exon
  • https://www.aatbio.com/resources/faq-frequently-asked-questions/What-is-exon-shuffling


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