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Mol Cell Biol. 1991 Aug;11(8):3823-34.

Chromosome structure: DNA nucleotide sequence elements of a subset of the minichromosomes of the protozoan Trypanosoma brucei.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, New York 10032.


The genome of the protozoan Trypanosoma brucei contains a set of about 100 minichromosomes of about 50 to 150 kb in size. The small size of these chromosomes, their involvement in antigenic variation, and their mitotic stability make them ideal candidates for a structural analysis of protozoan chromosomes and their telomeres. We show that a subset of the minichromosomes is composed predominantly of simple-sequence DNA, with over 90% of the length of the minichromosome consisting of a tandem array of 177-bp repeats, indicating that these molecules have limited protein-coding capacity. Proceeding from the tip of the telomere to a chromosome internal position, a subset of the minichromosomes contained the GGGTTA telomere repeat, a 29-bp telomere-derived repeat, a region containing 74-bp G + C-rich direct repeats separated by approximately 155 bp of A + T-rich DNA that has a bent character, and 50 to 150 kb of the 177-bp repeat. Several of the minichromosome-derived telomeres did not encode protein-coding genes, indicating that the repertoire of telomeric variant cell surface glycoprotein genes is restricted to some telomeres only. The telomere organization in trypanosomes shares striking similarities to the organization of telomeres and subtelomeres in humans, yeasts, and plasmodia. An electron microscopic analysis of the minichromosomes showed that they are linear molecules without abnormal structures in the main body of the chromosome. The structure of replicating molecules indicated that minichromosomes probably have a single bidirectional origin of replication located in the body of the chromosome. We propose a model for the structure of the trypanosome minichromosomes.

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