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Chromosoma. 1982;86(4):469-90.

Pleiotropic effects associated with the deletion of heterochromatin surrounding rDNA on the X chromosome of Drosophila.


In Drosophila melanogaster X chromosome heterochromatin (Xh) constitutes the proximal 40% of the X chromosome DNA and contains a number of genetic elements with homologous sites on the Y chromosome, one of which is well defined, namely, the bobbed locus, the repetitive structural locus for the 18S and 28S rRNAs. This report presents the localisation of specific repeated DNA sequences within Xh and the employment of this sequence map in constructing new chromosomes to analyse the nature of the heterochromatin surrounding the rDNA region. Repeated sequences were located relative to inversion breakpoints which differentiate Xh cytogenetically. When the rDNA region was manipulated to be in a position in the chromosome so that it was without the Xh which normally surrounds it, the following observations were made. (i) The rDNA region of Xh is intrinsically heterochromatic, remaining genetically active and yet possessing major heterochromatic properties even in the absence of the flanking heterochromatin regions. (ii) The size of the deletion removing the portion of Xh normally located distal to the rDNA region affected the dominance relationship between the X and Y nucleolar organizers (activity/endoreduplication assayed in male salivary glands). The X rDNA without any flanking heterochromatin was dominant over Y rDNA while the presence of some Xh allowed both the X and Y rDNA to be utilized. (iii) Enhancement of the position effect variegation on the white locus was demonstrated to occur as a result of the Xh deletions generated. EMS mutagenesis studies argue that the regions of Xh flanking the rDNA region contain no vital loci despite the fact that they strongly effect gene expression in some genotypes. This is consistent with early studies using X-ray mutagenesis (Lindsley et al., 1960). The pleiotropic effects of deleting specific regions of Xh is discussed in relation to the possible influence of heterochromatin on the organisation of the functional interphase nucleus.

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