Alternative pre-mRNA splicing is an important element in eukaryotic gene expression, as most of the protein-coding genes use this process to generate multiple protein isoforms from a single gene. An increasing number of human diseases are now recognized to be caused by the selection of ‘wrong’ alternative exons. Research during the last few years identified a number of low–molecular-mass chemical substances that can change alternative exon usage. Most of these substances act by either blocking histone deacetylases or by interfering with the phosphorylation of splicing factors. How the remaining large number of these substances affect splicing is not yet fully understood. The emergence of these low-molecular-mass substances provides not only probes for studying alternative pre-mRNA splicing, but also opens the door to the possible harnessing of these compounds as drugs to control diseases caused by the selection of ‘wrong’ splice sites.

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