Cyclic nucleotide PDE4 (phosphodiesterase 4) inhibitors are being developed as potent anti-inflammatory drugs for use in chronic lung diseases, but the complexity of the PDE4 family has hampered this process. The four genes comprising the PDE4 family, PDE4A, PDE4B, PDE4C and PDE4D, are all expressed as multiple splice variants. The most widely used criterion to identify PDE4 variants expressed endogenously is their migration on SDS/PAGE. However, when a PDE4D3-selective antibody was used for immunoprecipitation, the pattern of expression obtained did not confirm the expression predicted by SDS/PAGE. This observation, together with the recent discovery of additional PDE4D transcripts, prompted us to re-evaluate the pattern of expression of these variants. The nine rat PDE4D splice variants, PDE4D1 to PDE4D9, were cloned, their electrophoretic properties compared, and their in vivo mRNA and protein levels determined. Using this approach, we found that the pattern of distribution of the PDE4D splicing variants is more complex than previously reported. Multiple variants co-migrate in single immunoreactive bands, and variant-selective antibodies were necessary to discriminate between splice variants. Tissues that were thought to express only PDE4D3, express three closely related proteins, with PDE4D8 and PDE4D9 as the predominantly expressed forms. In addition, activation of cAMP signalling produces phosphorylation and activation of variants other than PDE4D3, and expression of PDE4D mRNA does not always correlate with the pattern of protein expression. As PDE4 inhibitors have different affinities for distinct PDE4D splicing variants, our results indicate that a better definition of the pattern of PDE4 expression is required for target validation.

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