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Parassitologia. 1999 Sep;41(1-3):119-23.

Are chromosomal inversions induced by transposable elements? A paradigm from the malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae.

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Istituto di Parassitologia, Università La Sapienza, Roma, Italy.


Chromosomal rearrangements abound in nature and can be studied in detail in organisms with polytene chromosomes. In Drosophila and in Anopheline mosquitoes most speciation processes seem to be associated with the establishment of chromosomal rearrangements, particularly of paracentric inversions. It is not known what triggers inversions in natural populations. In the laboratory inversions are commonly generated by X-rays, mutagens or after the activity of certain transposable elements (TEs). The Anopheles gambiae complex is comprised of six sibling species, each one characterized by the presence of fixed paracentric inversions on their chromosomes. Two of these, An. gambiae s.s. and An. arabiensis, are the most important vectors of human malaria and are structured into sub-populations, each carrying a characteristic set of polymorphic chromosomal inversions. We have cloned the breakpoints of the naturally occurring polymorphic inversion In(2R)d' of An. arabiensis. Analysis of the surrounding sequences demonstrated that adjacent to the distal breakpoint lies a transposable element that we called Odysseus. Characteristics of Odysseus' terminal region and its cytological distribution in different strains as well as within the same strain indicate that Odysseus is an actively transposing element. The presence of Odysseus at the junction of the naturally occurring inversion In(2R)d' suggests that the inversion may be the result of the TEs activity. Cytological evidence from Drosophila melanogaster has also implicated the hobo transposable element in the generation of certain Hawaiian endemic inversions. This picture supports the hypothesis of the important role of TEs in generating natural inversions.

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