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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1987 Dec;84(23):8190-4.

Trypanosome mRNAs have unusual "cap 4" structures acquired by addition of a spliced leader.

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School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley 94720.


A single capped oligonucleotide is released from Trypanosoma brucei poly(A)+ RNA upon digestion with RNase T2. This observation supports the hypothesis that all T. brucei mRNAs share a common leader sequence. Digestion of the T2-resistant species with nucleotide pyrophosphatase shows that the capping nucleotide is 7-methylguanosine 5'-monophosphate (pm7G). Additional characterization of the T2-resistant fragment indicates that modifications are present on the first four transcribed nucleotides; the 5' termini of T. brucei mRNAs can, therefore, be described as "cap 4" structures. Identical 5'-cap structures are found on the T. brucei spliced leader (SL) RNA; an observation compatible with the hypothesis that the small SL RNA acts as a donor of the SL for the mRNA. However, we find that within a population of purified SL RNAs are species that are capped but incompletely modified. The presence of these unmodified and partially modified species allowed us to analyze the 5' sequence of the SL RNA transcript. The results indicate that transcription begins four nucleotides upstream of the reported 5' end. Therefore, the T. brucei SL transcript is actually 39 rather than 35 nucleotides long. We have also analyzed the capped oligonucleotide of a distantly related Trypanosomatid, Leptomonas collosoma and find it to be identical to that of T. brucei. The potential significance of these results is discussed in light of observations of trypanosome gene expression.

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