Localization of the modified base J in telomeric VSG gene expression sites of Trypanosoma brucei.


African trypanosomes such as Trypanosoma brucei undergo antigenic variation in the bloodstream of their mammalian hosts by regularly changing the variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) gene expressed. The transcribed VSG gene is invariably located in a telomeric expression site. There are multiple expression sites and one way to change the VSG gene expressed is by activating a new site and inactivating the previously active one. The mechanisms that control expression site switching are unknown, but have been suggested to involve epigenetic regulation. We have found previously that VSG genes in silent (but not active) expression sites contain modified restriction endonuclease cleavage sites, and we have presented circumstantial evidence indicating that this is attributable to the presence of a novel modified base beta-D-glucosyl-hydroxymethyluracil, or J. To directly test this, we have generated antisera that specifically recognize J-containing DNA and have used these to determine the precise location of this modified thymine in the telomeric VSG expression sites. By anti J-DNA immunoprecipitations, we found that J is present in telomeric VSG genes in silenced expression sites and not in actively transcribed telomeric VSG genes. J was absent from inactive chromosome-internal VSG genes. DNA modification was also found at the boundaries of expression sites. In the long 50-bp repeat arrays upstream of the promoter and in the telomeric repeat arrays downstream of the VSG gene, J was found both in silent and active expression sites. This suggests that silencing results in a gradient of modification spreading from repetitive DNA flanks into the neighboring expression site sequences. In this paper, we discuss the possible role of J in silencing of expression sites.

More about this publication

Genes & development
  • Volume 11
  • Issue nr. 23
  • Pages 3232-41
  • Publication date 01-12-1997

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