Heterochromatin is essential for the organization of DNA within eukaryotic genomes and plays an important role in protecting genome integrity, centromere formation and nuclear organization. Traditionally, it was assumed the more condensed structure of heterochromatin prevented transcription within heterochromatic regions of the genome by preventing RNA pol II machinery from accessing DNA. Since then, it has been shown that transcription within heterochromatic regions plays an important role in the establishment and maintenance of heterochromatin at three major loci, namely pericentromic, mating-type and subtelomeric. However, it is still not well understood how transcription is accommodated in heterochromatic regions. Furthermore, differences in the mechanisms by which heterochromatin is maintained have been uncovered at each of the three major heterochromatic regions mentioned above.
The aims presented in this proposal seek to expand current knowledge of transcription within heterochromatic loci. First, aim 1 will focus on the biochemical purification of RNA transcripts arising from each of the three major heterochromatic regions of the S. pombe genome using the MS2 coat protein to selectively isolate RNA transcripts containing coded MS2 stem loops. Identification of proteins associated with RNA transcripts will offer a comprehensive analysis of factors involved in silencing of heterochromatic loci and expose possible differences in the mechanisms by which silencing occurs at each of the three major heterochromatic loci. Second, for aim 2, an interrogation of upstream elements at heterochromatic loci will be undertaken to analyze the properties of transcription initiation at heterochromatic loci by direct replacement of promoter elements. This will be particularly important given the challenges placed on the RNA pol II machinery at condensed and crowded heterochromatic regions. Taken together, these aims will seek to uncover previously unappreciated aspects of transcription at heterochromatic loci, and will provide an ideal opportunity for training in a new field of biological study.
Establishment and maintenance of heterochromatin is important for a number of cellular processes including proper segregation of chromosomes and prevention of potentially deleterious recombination events . Thus, heterochromatin protects the integrity of the genome. This proposal seeks to investigate mechanistic details of transcription within heterochromatic domains that are important for maintenance of heterochromatin structure.