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Eukaryot Cell. 2006 Apr;5(4):771-80.

The highly conserved family of Tetrahymena thermophila chromosome breakage elements contains an invariant 10-base-pair core.

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  • 1Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.


As a typical ciliate, Tetrahymena thermophila is a unicellular eukaryote that exhibits nuclear dimorphism: each cell contains a diploid, germ line micronucleus (MICN) and a polyploid, somatic macronucleus (MACN). During conjugation, when a new MACN differentiates from a mitotic descendant of the diploid fertilization nucleus, the five MICN chromosomes are site-specifically fragmented into 250 to 300 MACN chromosomes. The classic chromosome breakage sequence (CBS) is a 15-bp element (TAAACCAACCTCTTT) reported to be necessary and sufficient for chromosome breakage. To determine whether a CBS is present at every site of chromosome fragmentation and to assess the range of sequence variation tolerated, 31 CBSs were isolated without preconception as to the sequence of the chromosome breakage element. Additional CBS-related sequences were identified in the whole-genome sequence by their similarities to the classic CBS. Forty CBS elements behaved as authentic chromosome breakage sites. The CBS nucleotide sequence is more diverse than previously thought: nearly half of the CBS elements identified by unbiased methods have a variant of the classic CBS. Only an internal 10-bp core is completely conserved, but the entire 15-bp chromosome breakage sequence shows significant sequence conservation. Our results suggest that any one member of the CBS family provides a necessary and sufficient cis element for chromosome breakage. No chromosome breakage element totally unrelated to the classic CBS element was found; such elements, if they exist at all, must be rare.

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