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J Biol Chem. 1988 Nov 15;263(32):16970-6.

Extrachromosomal elements in the lower eukaryote Leishmania.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco 94143.


Extrachromosomal DNA elements have been identified in wild-type populations of the parasitic protozoan Leishmania. Elements from L. major and L. tropica were detected using orthogonal-field-alternation-gel electrophoresis. They are nonhomologous, supercoiled circular DNA molecules derived from different chromosomes in the Leishmania genome. Electron microscopy revealed that the elements have very similar physical properties; both are 80-kilobase supercoiled DNA molecules that contain large inverted repeat structures. The extrachromosomal DNAs are amplified in the Leishmania populations and show a fluctuation in copy number, from undetectable to around 20 copies per cell. After exposure of the L. tropica population to the drug methotrexate (MTX), a second amplified DNA was observed that is homologous to the extrachromosomal DNA found in L. major. Furthermore, wild-type Leishmania populations containing extrachromosomal DNA adapt more readily to MTX selection than populations with no amplified DNA. From these observations, there appears to be a relationship between the presence of extrachromosomal elements in wild-type Leishmania and the genesis and maintenance of MTX resistance in these organisms.

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