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Mol Cell Biol. 1996 Aug;16(8):4305-11.

Essential and nonessential histone H2A variants in Tetrahymena thermophila.

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Department of Biology, University of Rochester, New York 14627, USA.


Although variants have been identified for every class of histone, their functions remain unknown. We have been studying the histone H2A variant hv1 in the ciliated protozoan Tetrahymena thermophila. Sequence analysis indicates that hv1 belongs to the H2A.F/Z type of histone variants. On the basis of the high degree of evolutionary conservation of this class of histones, they are proposed to have one or more distinct and essential functions that cannot be performed by their major H2A counterparts. Considerable evidence supports the hypothesis that the hv1 protein in T. thermophila and hv1-like proteins in other eukaryotes are associated with active chromatin. In T. thermophila, simple mass transformation and gene replacement techniques have recently become available. In this report, we demonstrate that either the HTA1 gene or the HTA2 gene, encoding the major H2As, can be completely replaced by disrupted genes in the polyploid, transcriptionally active macronucleus, indicating that neither of the two genes is essential. However, only some of the HTA3 genes encoding hv1 can be replaced by disrupted genes, indicating that the H2A.F/Z type variants have an essential function that cannot be performed by the major H2A genes. Thus, an essential gene in T. thermophila can be defined by the fact that it can be partially, but not completely, eliminated from the polyploid macronucleus. To our knowledge, this study represents the first use of gene disruption technology to study core histone gene function in any organism other than yeast and the first demonstration of an essential gene in T. thermophila using these methods. When a rescuing plasmid carrying a wild-type HTA3 gene was introduced into the T. thermophila cells, the endogenous chromosomal HTA3 could be completely replaced, defining a gene replacement strategy that can be used to analyze the function of essential genes.

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