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J Mol Biol. 1988 Dec 5;204(3):535-48.

DNase I sensitivity of ribosomal RNA genes in chromatin and nucleolar dominance in wheat.

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Department of Plant Biology, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Stanford, CA 94305.


Ribosomal RNA genes at different nucleolar organizer (NOR) loci in hexaploid wheat are expressed at different levels. The degree of expression of a particular organizer depends on the genetic background, especially on the presence of other NOR loci. For example, when chromosome 1U of Aegilops umbellulata is introduced into the hexaploid wheat cultivar "Chinese Spring" the A. umbellulata NOR accounts for most of the nucleolar activity and seems to suppress the activity of the wheat NOR loci. Even in wild-type "Chinese Spring", the NOR on chromosome 1B is partially dominant to that on chromosome 6B, since the 1B locus is more active in spite of having fewer genes. We have previously shown that these and other examples of nucleolar dominance in wheat are associated with undermethylation of cytosine residues in certain regions of the dominant rDNA. Here, we show that rRNA genes at dominant loci are organized in a chromatin conformation that renders them more sensitive to DNase I digestion than other rRNA genes. In addition, we have mapped several DNase I-hypersensitive sites in the intergenic spacer region of the rDNA repeating unit. Some of these sites are located near the initiation region for the 45 S rRNA precursor, while others are associated with a series of short direct repeats 5' to the 45 S rRNA initiation site. The results are discussed in terms of a model in which repeated sequences in the wheat intergenic DNA are presumed to function as upstream promoters and transcriptional enhancers similar to those in Xenopus.

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