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BMC Genomics. 2008 Dec 3;9:582. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-9-582.

Properties of non-coding DNA and identification of putative cis-regulatory elements in Theileria parva.

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The Institute for Genomic Research/J. Craig Venter Institute, 9712 Medical Center Drive, Rockville, MD 20850, USA.



Parasites in the genus Theileria cause lymphoproliferative diseases in cattle, resulting in enormous socio-economic losses. The availability of the genome sequences and annotation for T. parva and T. annulata has facilitated the study of parasite biology and their relationship with host cell transformation and tropism. However, the mechanism of transcriptional regulation in this genus, which may be key to understanding fundamental aspects of its parasitology, remains poorly understood. In this study, we analyze the evolution of non-coding sequences in the Theileria genome and identify conserved sequence elements that may be involved in gene regulation of these parasitic species.


Intergenic regions and introns in Theileria are short, and their length distributions are considerably right-skewed. Intergenic regions flanked by genes in 5'-5' orientation tend to be longer and slightly more AT-rich than those flanked by two stop codons; intergenic regions flanked by genes in 3'-5' orientation have intermediate values of length and AT composition. Intron position is negatively correlated with intron length, and positively correlated with GC content. Using stringent criteria, we identified a set of high-quality orthologous non-coding sequences between T. parva and T. annulata, and determined the distribution of selective constraints across regions, which are shown to be higher close to translation start sites. A positive correlation between constraint and length in both intergenic regions and introns suggests a tight control over length expansion of non-coding regions. Genome-wide searches for functional elements revealed several conserved motifs in intergenic regions of Theileria genomes. Two such motifs are preferentially located within the first 60 base pairs upstream of transcription start sites in T. parva, are preferentially associated with specific protein functional categories, and have significant similarity to know regulatory motifs in other species. These results suggest that these two motifs are likely to represent transcription factor binding sites in Theileria.


Theileria genomes are highly compact, with selection seemingly favoring short introns and intergenic regions. Three over-represented sequence motifs were independently identified in intergenic regions of both Theileria species, and the evidence suggests that at least two of them play a role in transcriptional control in T. parva. These are prime candidates for experimental validation of transcription factor binding sites in this single-celled eukaryotic parasite. Sequences similar to two of these Theileria motifs are conserved in Plasmodium hinting at the possibility of common regulatory machinery across the phylum Apicomplexa.

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