Nucleolar dominance of the Y chromosome in Drosophila melanogaster. uri icon


  • The rDNA genes are transcribed by RNA polymerase I to make structural RNAs for ribosomes. Hundreds of rDNA genes are typically arranged in an array that spans megabase pairs of DNA. These arrays are the major sites of transcription in growing cells, accounting for as much as 50% of RNA synthesis. The repetitive rDNA arrays are thought to use heterochromatic gene silencing as a mechanism for metabolic regulation, since repeated sequences nucleate heterochromatin formation in eukaryotes. Drosophila melanogaster carries an rDNA array on the X chromosome and on the Y chromosome, and genetic analysis has suggested that both are transcribed. However, using a chromatin-marking assay, we find that the entire X chromosome rDNA array is normally silenced in D. melanogaster males, while the Y chromosome rDNA array is dominant and expressed. This resembles "nucleolar dominance," a phenomenon that occurs in interspecific hybrids where an rDNA array from one parental species is silenced, and that from the other parent is preferentially transcribed. Interspecies nucleolar dominance is thought to result from incompatibilities between species-specific transcription factors and the rDNA promoters in the hybrid, but our results show that nucleolar dominance is a normal feature of rDNA regulation. Nucleolar dominance within D. melanogaster is only partially dependent on known components of heterochromatic gene silencing, implying that a distinctive chromatin regulatory system may act at rDNA genes. Finally, we isolate variant Y chromosomes that allow X chromosome array expression and suggest that the large-scale organization of rDNA arrays contribute to nucleolar dominance. This is the first example of allelic inactivation in D. melanogaster.

publication date

  • August 2012