A genome-wide, tissue-independent quasi-linear, inverse relationship exists between DNA methylation of the first intron and gene expression. More tissue-specific, differentially methylated regions exist in the first intron than in any other gene feature. These have positive or negative correlation with gene expression, indicative of distinct mechanisms of tissue-specific regulation. CpGs in transcription factor binding motifs are enriched in the first intron and methylation tends to increase with distance from the first exon–first intron boundary, with a concomitant decrease in gene expression.
Since the relationship between sequence, methylation, repression and transcription is determinative in ESC differentiation it may also suggest a broader link to differential translation. Translation is required for miRNA-dependent transcript destabilization that alters levels of coding and noncoding transcripts. But, steady-state abundance and decay rates of cytosolic long non-coding RNA's (lncRNAs) are insensitive to miRNA loss. Instead lncRNAs fused to protein-coding reporter sequences become susceptible to miRNA-mediated decay.
In this model, first intron DNA sequences that are differentially methylated, bind transcription factors that effect transcription, impact splicing, expressions of coding or non-coding transcripts and transcript destabilizations resulting in differential rates and possible variations in translation. This bottom-up, dynamic view of the classical process may elevate the first intron from 'junk' to a DNA 'brain' because it plays a more extensive role, heading the process toward translation of any gene or switching it off entirely.
For this reason, among others Codondex uses first intron k-mers relative to the transcripts mRNA as the basis for comparing same gene transcripts in diseased cells or tissue samples. Further, p53 and BRCA1 miRNA key sequences, discovered using Codondex iScore algorithm, when transfected into HeLa cells resulted in significantly reduced proliferation that may result from this accelerated, transfected miRNA dependent decay.