RNA-seq is widely used for studying gene expression, but commonly used sequencing platforms produce short reads that only span up to two exon junctions per read. This makes it difficult to accurately determine the composition and phasing of exons within transcripts. Although long-read sequencing improves this issue, it is not amenable to precise quantitation, which limits its utility for differential expression studies. We used long-read isoform sequencing combined with a novel analysis approach to compare alternative splicing of large, repetitive structural genes in muscles. Analysis of muscle structural genes that produce medium (Nrap: 5 kb), large (Neb: 22 kb), and very large (Ttn: 106 kb) transcripts in cardiac muscle, and fast and slow skeletal muscles identified unannotated exons for each of these ubiquitous muscle genes. This also identified differential exon usage and phasing for these genes between the different muscle types. By mapping the in-phase transcript structures to known annotations, we also identified and quantified previously unannotated transcripts. Results were confirmed by endpoint PCR and Sanger sequencing, which revealed muscle-type-specific differential expression of these novel transcripts. The improved transcript identification and quantification shown by our approach removes previous impediments to studies aimed at quantitative differential expression of ultralong transcripts.
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