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Mol Cell Biol. 2003 Jun;23(11):3825-36.

Transcription of endogenous and exogenous R2 elements in the rRNA gene locus of Drosophila melanogaster.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 146270-0211, USA.


R2 retrotransposons insert into the rRNA-encoding units (rDNA units) that form the nucleoli of insects. We have utilized an R2 integration system in Drosophila melanogaster to study transcription of foreign sequences integrated into the R2 target site of the 28S rRNA genes. The exogenous sequences were cotranscribed at dramatically different levels which closely paralleled the level of transcription of the endogenous R1 and R2 elements. Transcription levels were inversely correlated with the number of uninserted rDNA units, variation in this number having been brought about by the R2 integration system itself. Females with as few as 20 uninserted rDNA units per X chromosome had expression levels of endogenous and exogenous insertion sequences that were 2 orders of magnitude higher than lines that contained over 80 uninserted rDNA units per chromosome. R2 insertions only 167 bp in length exhibited this range of transcriptional regulation. Analysis of transcript levels in males suggested R2 insertions on the Y chromosome are not down-regulated to the same extent as insertions on the X chromosome. These results suggest that transcription of the rDNA units can be tightly regulated, but this regulation gradually breaks down as the cell approaches the minimum number of uninserted genes needed for survival.

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