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Curr Biol. 2019 Jul 22;29(14):2359-2370.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.05.038. Epub 2019 Jul 4.

Non-coding RNA Transcription in Tetrahymena Meiotic Nuclei Requires Dedicated Mediator Complex-Associated Proteins.

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Department of Chromosome Biology, Max F. Perutz Laboratories, University of Vienna, 1030 Vienna, Austria. Electronic address:
Institute of Human Genetics (IGH), CNRS, University of Montpellier, 34090 Montpellier, France.
Department of Chromosome Biology, Max F. Perutz Laboratories, University of Vienna, 1030 Vienna, Austria.


To preserve genome integrity, eukaryotic cells use small RNA-directed mechanisms to repress transposable elements (TEs). Paradoxically, in order to silence TEs, precursors of the small RNAs must be transcribed from TEs. However, it is still poorly understood how these precursors are transcribed from TEs under silenced conditions. In the otherwise transcriptionally silent germline micronucleus (MIC) of Tetrahymena, a burst of non-coding RNA (ncRNA) transcription occurs during meiosis. The transcripts are processed into small RNAs that serve to identify TE-related sequences for elimination. The Mediator complex (Med) has an evolutionarily conserved role for transcription by bridging gene-specific transcription factors and RNA polymerase II. Here, we report that three Med-associated factors, Emit1, Emit2, and Rib1, are required for the biogenesis of small ncRNAs. Med localizes to the MIC only during meiosis, and both Med localization and MIC ncRNA transcription require Emit1 and Emit2. In the MIC, Med occupies TE-rich pericentromeric and telomeric regions in a Rib1-dependent manner. Rib1 is dispensable for ncRNA transcription but is required for the accumulation of double-stranded ncRNAs. Nuclear and sub-nuclear localization of the three Med-associated proteins is interdependent. Hence, Emit1 and Emit2 act coordinately to import Med into the MIC, and Rib1 recruits Med to specific chromosomal locations to quantitatively or qualitatively promote the biogenesis of functional ncRNA. Our results underscore that the transcription machinery can be regulated by a set of specialized Med-associated proteins to temporally transcribe TE-related sequences from a silent genome for small RNA biogenesis and genome defense.


DNA elimination; Tetrahymena; epigenetics; mediator complex; nongenic transcription; small RNA

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