77 research outputs found

    Heterochromatin and gene regulation in Drosophila

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    We have recently learned more about the biochemistry of heterochromatin and about how heterochromatic environments affect gene function. New findings have emphasized the distinctions between telomeric and pericentric heterochromatin in Drosophila and have suggested a mosaic structure within pericentric heterochromatin. Theories concerning the mechanism of inactivation of euchromatic genes in heterochromatic environments have been tested using transgenes inserted into heterochromatin. The current data support a competition/chromatin structure model, in which multiprotein repressor complexes compete with transcriptional activators to assemble an active or inactive chromatin structure

    Chromatin structure and gene activity

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    The dot chromosome of Drosophila: insights into chromatin states and their change over evolutionary time

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    Historically, chromatin has been subdivided into heterochromatin, transcriptionally inactive regions that remain densely packaged throughout the cell cycle, and euchromatin, transcriptionally active regions that take on a diffuse appearance as the cell enters interphase. The banded portion of the small fourth chromosome (dot chromosome) of Drosophila melanogaster is unusual in exhibiting many characteristics of heterochromatic domains, and at the same time maintaining a gene density typical of euchromatin. Similar to genes embedded in pericentric heterochromatin, many of the dot chromosome genes have adapted to a heterochromatic environment. Little is known about the regulation of these genes and less about their evolution in a chromatin context. Interestingly, most of the genes from the D. melanogaster fourth chromosome remain clustered on a small chromosome throughout the genus Drosophila; yet the dot chromosome appears euchromatic in some species, such as D. virilis. Existing genomic sequence data allow an exploration of the underlying differences in DNA sequence organization between species. Here we review the available data describing the dot chromosome, which derives primarily from D. melanogaster. With its unusual and changing nature, the dot chromosome in the genus Drosophila provides a unique opportunity for the examination of transitions between chromatin states during evolution

    Small RNA-directed heterochromatin formation in the context of development: what flies might learn from fission yeast

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    A link between the RNAi system and heterochromatin formation has been established in several model organisms including Schizosaccharomyces pombe and Arabidopsis thaliana. However, the data to support a role for small RNAs and the associated machinery in transcriptional gene silencing in animal systems is more tenuous. Using the S. pombe system as a model, we analyze the role of small RNA pathway components and associated small RNAs in regulating transposable elements and potentially directing heterochromatin formation at these elements in Drosophila melanogaster

    Drosophila muller f elements maintain a distinct set of genomic properties over 40 million years of evolution

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    The Muller F element (4.2 Mb, ~80 protein-coding genes) is an unusual autosome of Drosophila melanogaster; it is mostly heterochromatic with a low recombination rate. To investigate how these properties impact the evolution of repeats and genes, we manually improved the sequence and annotated the genes on the D. erecta, D. mojavensis, and D. grimshawi F elements and euchromatic domains from the Muller D element. We find that F elements have greater transposon density (25-50%) than euchromatic reference regions (3-11%). Among the F elements, D. grimshawi has the lowest transposon density (particularly DINE-1: 2% vs. 11-27%). F element genes have larger coding spans, more coding exons, larger introns, and lower codon bias. Comparison of the Effective Number of Codons with the Codon Adaptation Index shows that, in contrast to the other species, codon bias in D. grimshawi F element genes can be attributed primarily to selection instead of mutational biases, suggesting that density and types of transposons affect the degree of local heterochromatin formation. F element genes have lower estimated DNA melting temperatures than D element genes, potentially facilitating transcription through heterochromatin. Most F element genes (~90%) have remained on that element, but the F element has smaller syntenic blocks than genome averages (3.4-3.6 vs. 8.4-8.8 genes per block), indicating greater rates of inversion despite lower rates of recombination. Overall, the F element has maintained characteristics that are distinct from other autosomes in the Drosophila lineage, illuminating the constraints imposed by a heterochromatic milieu. Keywords: codon bias; evolution of heterochromatin; gene size; melting characteristics; transposons

    Ectopic assembly of heterochromatin in Drosophila melanogaster triggered by transposable elements

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    A persistent question in biology is how cis-acting sequence elements influence trans-acting factors and the local chromatin environment to modulate gene expression. We reported previously that the DNA transposon 1360 can enhance silencing of a reporter in a heterochromatic domain of Drosophila melanogaster. We have now generated a collection of variegating phiC31 landing-pad insertion lines containing 1360 and a heat-shock protein 70 (hsp70)-driven white reporter to explore the mechanism of 1360-sensitive silencing. Many 1360-sensitive sites were identified, some in apparently euchromatic domains, although all are close to heterochromatic masses. One such site (line 1198; insertion near the base of chromosome arm 2L) has been investigated in detail. ChIP analysis shows 1360-dependent Heterochromatin Protein 1a (HP1a) accumulation at this otherwise euchromatic site. The phiC31 landing pad system allows different 1360 constructs to be swapped with the full-length element at the same genomic site to identify the sequences that mediate 1360-sensitive silencing. Short deletions over sites with homology to PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are sufficient to compromise 1360-sensitive silencing. Similar results were obtained on replacing 1360 with Invader4 (a retrotransposon), suggesting that this phenomenon likely applies to a broader set of transposable elements. Our results suggest a model in which piRNA sequence elements behave as cis-acting targets for heterochromatin assembly, likely in the early embryo, where piRNA pathway components are abundant, with the heterochromatic state subsequently propagated by chromatin modifiers present in somatic tissue

    The impact of genetic background and cell lineage on the level and pattern of gene expression in position effect variegation

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    Background: Chromatin-based transcriptional silencing is often described as a stochastic process, largely because of the mosaic expression observed in position effect variegation (PEV), where a euchromatic reporter gene is silenced in some cells as a consequence of juxtaposition with heterochromatin. High levels of variation in PEV phenotypes are commonly observed in reporter stocks. To ascertain whether background mutations are the major contributors to this variation, we asked how much of the variation is determined by genetic variants segregating in the population, examining both the level and pattern of expression using the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as the model. Results: Using selective breeding of a fourth chromosome PEV reporter line, 39C-12, we isolated two inbred lines exhibiting contrasting degrees of variegation (A1: low expression, D1: high expression). Within each inbred population, remarkable similarity is observed in the degree of variegation: 90% of the variation between the two inbred lines in the degree of silencing can be explained by genotype. Further analyses suggest that this result reflects the combined effect of multiple independent trans-acting loci. While the initial observations are based on a PEV phenotype scored in the fly eye (hsp70-white reporter), similar degrees of silencing were observed using a beta-gal reporter scored across the whole fly. Further, the pattern of variegation becomes almost identical within each inbred line; significant pigment enrichment in the same quadrant of the eye was found for both A1 and D1 lines despite different degrees of expression. Conclusions: The results indicate that background genetic variants play the major role in determining the variable degrees of PEV commonly observed in laboratory stocks. Interestingly, not only does the degree of variegation become consistent in inbred lines, the patterns of variegation also appear similar. Combining these observations with the spreading model for local heterochromatin formation, we propose an augmented stochastic model to describe PEV in which the genetic background drives the overall level of silencing, working with the cell lineage-specific regulatory environment to determine the on/off probability at the reporter locus in each cell. This model acknowledges cell type-specific events in the context of broader genetic impacts on heterochromatin formation. Keywords: Heterochromatin; Modifiers of PEV; PEV; Transcription regulation

    Maternal depletion of Piwi, a component of the RNAi system, impacts heterochromatin formation in Drosophila

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    A persistent question in epigenetics is how heterochromatin is targeted for assembly at specific domains, and how that chromatin state is faithfully transmitted. Stable heterochromatin is necessary to silence transposable elements (TEs) and maintain genome integrity. Both the RNAi system and heterochromatin components HP1 (Swi6) and H3K9me2/3 are required for initial establishment of heterochromatin structures in S. pombe. Here we utilize both loss of function alleles and the newly developed Drosophila melanogaster transgenic shRNA lines to deplete proteins of interest at specific development stages to dissect their roles in heterochromatin assembly in early zygotes and in maintenance of the silencing chromatin state during development. Using reporters subject to Position Effect Variegation (PEV), we find that depletion of key proteins in the early embryo can lead to loss of silencing assayed at adult stages. The piRNA component Piwi is required in the early embryo for reporter silencing in non-gonadal somatic cells, but knock-down during larval stages has no impact. This implies that Piwi is involved in targeting HP1a when heterochromatin is established at the late blastoderm stage and possibly also during embryogenesis, but that the silent chromatin state created is transmitted through cell division independent of the piRNA system. In contrast, heterochromatin structural protein HP1a is required for both initial heterochromatin assembly and the following mitotic inheritance. HP1a profiles in piwi mutant animals confirm that Piwi depletion leads to decreased HP1a levels in pericentric heterochromatin, particularly in TEs. The results suggest that the major role of the piRNA system in assembly of heterochromatin in non-gonadal somatic cells occurs in the early embryo during heterochromatin formation, and further demonstrate that failure of heterochromatin formation in the early embryo impacts the phenotype of the adult
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