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RNA polymerase I transcription in a Brassica interspecific hybrid and its progenitors: Tests of transcription factor involvement in nucleolar dominance.

  • M Frieman
  • Z J Chen
  • J Saez-Vasquez
  • L A Shen
  • C S Pikaard
Publication Date
May 01, 1999
  • Biology


In interspecific hybrids or allopolyploids, often one parental set of ribosomal RNA genes is transcribed and the other is silent, an epigenetic phenomenon known as nucleolar dominance. Silencing is enforced by cytosine methylation and histone deacetylation, but the initial discrimination mechanism is unknown. One hypothesis is that a species-specific transcription factor is inactivated, thereby silencing one set of rRNA genes. Another is that dominant rRNA genes have higher binding affinities for limiting transcription factors. A third suggests that selective methylation of underdominant rRNA genes blocks transcription factor binding. We tested these hypotheses using Brassica napus (canola), an allotetraploid derived from B. rapa and B. oleracea in which only B. rapa rRNA genes are transcribed. B. oleracea and B. rapa rRNA genes were active when transfected into protoplasts of the other species, which argues against the species-specific transcription factor model. B. oleracea and B. rapa rRNA genes also competed equally for the pol I transcription machinery in vitro and in vivo. Cytosine methylation had no effect on rRNA gene transcription in vitro, which suggests that transcription factor binding was unimpaired. These data are inconsistent with the prevailing models and point to discrimination mechanisms that are likely to act at a chromosomal level.

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