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PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e44006. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044006. Epub 2012 Aug 30.

Chromatin structure of ribosomal RNA genes in dipterans and its relationship to the location of nucleolar organizers.

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  • 1Departamento de Genética e Biologia Evolutiva, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil.


Nucleoli, nuclear organelles in which ribosomal RNA is synthesized and processed, emerge from nucleolar organizers (NORs) located in distinct chromosomal regions. In polytene nuclei of dipterans, nucleoli of some species can be observed under light microscopy exhibiting distinctive morphology: Drosophila and chironomid species display well-formed nucleoli in contrast to the fragmented and dispersed nucleoli seen in sciarid flies. The available data show no apparent relationship between nucleolar morphology and location of NORs in Diptera. The regulation of rRNA transcription involves controlling both the transcription rate per gene as well as the proportion of rRNA genes adopting a proper chromatin structure for transcription, since active and inactive rRNA gene copies coexist in NORs. Transcription units organized in nucleosomes and those lacking canonical nucleosomes can be analyzed by the method termed psoralen gel retarding assay (PGRA), allowing inferences on the ratio of active to inactive rRNA gene copies. In this work, possible connections between chromosomal location of NORs and proportion of active rRNA genes were studied in Drosophila melanogaster, and in chironomid and sciarid species. The data suggested a link between location of NORs and proportion of active rRNA genes since the copy number showing nucleosomal organization predominates when NORs are located in the pericentric heterochromatin. The results presented in this work are in agreement with previous data on the chromatin structure of rRNA genes from distantly related eukaryotes, as assessed by the PGRA.

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