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J Cell Sci. 2011 Nov 1;124(Pt 21):3676-83. doi: 10.1242/jcs.087981. Epub 2011 Nov 1.

Ultrastructural study of transcription factories in mouse erythroblasts.

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Nuclear Dynamics Laboratory, The Babraham Institute, Babraham Research Campus, Cambridge CB22 3AT, UK.


RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) transcription has been proposed to occur at transcription factories; nuclear focal accumulations of the active, phosphorylated forms of RNAPII. The low ratio of transcription factories to active genes and transcription units suggests that genes must share factories. Our previous analyses using light microscopy have indicated that multiple genes could share the same factory. Furthermore, we found that a small number of specialized transcription factories containing high levels of the erythroid-specific transcription factor KLF1 preferentially transcribed a network of KLF1-regulated genes. Here we used correlative light microscopy in combination with energy filtering transmission electron microscopy (EFTEM) and electron microscopy in situ hybridization (EMISH) to analyse transcription factories, transcribing genes, and their nuclear environments at the ultrastructural level in ex vivo mouse foetal liver erythroblasts. We show that transcription factories in this tissue can be recognized as large nitrogen-rich structures with a mean diameter of 130 nm, which is considerably larger than that previously seen in transformed cultured cell lines. We show that KLF1-specialized factories are significantly larger, with the majority of measured factories occupying the upper 25th percentile of this distribution with an average diameter of 174 nm. In addition, we show that very highly transcribed genes associated with erythroid differentiation tend to occupy and share the largest factories with an average diameter of 198 nm. Our results suggest that individual factories are dynamically organized and able to respond to the increased transcriptional load imposed by multiple highly transcribed genes by significantly increasing in size.

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