Nucleolar organization, ribosomal DNA array stability, and acrocentric chromosome integrity are linked to telomere function.
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The short arms of the ten acrocentric human chromosomes share several repetitive DNAs, including ribosomal RNA genes (rDNA). The rDNA arrays correspond to nucleolar organizing regions that coalesce each cell cycle to form the nucleolus. Telomere disruption by expressing a mutant version of telomere binding protein TRF2 (dnTRF2) causes non-random acrocentric fusions, as well as large-scale nucleolar defects. The mechanisms responsible for acrocentric chromosome sensitivity to dysfunctional telomeres are unclear. In this study, we show that TRF2 normally associates with the nucleolus and rDNA. However, when telomeres are crippled by dnTRF2 or RNAi knockdown of TRF2, gross nucleolar and chromosomal changes occur. We used the controllable dnTRF2 system to precisely dissect the timing and progression of nucleolar and chromosomal instability induced by telomere dysfunction, demonstrating that nucleolar changes precede the DNA damage and morphological changes that occur at acrocentric short arms. The rDNA repeat arrays on the short arms decondense, and are coated by RNA polymerase I transcription binding factor UBF, physically linking acrocentrics to one another as they become fusogenic. These results highlight the importance of telomere function in nucleolar stability and structural integrity of acrocentric chromosomes, particularly the rDNA arrays. Telomeric stress is widely accepted to cause DNA damage at chromosome ends, but our findings suggest that it also disrupts chromosome structure beyond the telomere region, specifically within the rDNA arrays located on acrocentric chromosomes. These results have relevance for Robertsonian translocation formation in humans and mechanisms by which acrocentric-acrocentric fusions are promoted by DNA damage and repair.
Published Version (Please cite this version)
Stimpson, Kaitlin M, Lori L Sullivan, Molly E Kuo and Beth A Sullivan (2014). Nucleolar organization, ribosomal DNA array stability, and acrocentric chromosome integrity are linked to telomere function. PLoS One, 9(3). p. e92432. 10.1371/journal.pone.0092432 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9507.
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Research in the Sullivan Lab is focused on chromosome organization, with a specific emphasis on the genomics and epigenetics of the chromosomal locus called the centromere. The centromere is a specialized chromosomal site involved in chromosome architecture and movement, and when defective, is linked to cancer, birth defects, and infertility. The lab has described a unique type of chromatin (CEN chromatin) that forms exclusively at the centromere by replacement of core histone H3 by the centromeric histone variant CENP-A. Their studies also explore the composition of CEN chromatin and its relationship to the underlying highly repetitive alpha satellite DNA at the centromere. The Sullivan lab also discovered that genomic variation within alpha satellite DNA affects where the centromere is built and how well it functions. The Sullivan lab was part of the Telomere-to-Telomere T2T Consortium that used ultra long read sequencing and optical mapping to completely assemble each human chromosome, including through millions of basepairs of alpha satellite DNA at each centromere. Dr. Sullivan's group also builds human artificial chromosomes (HACs), using them as tools to test components required for a viable, transmissible chromosome and to study centromeric transcription and chromosome stability. The lab also studies formation and fate of chromosome abnormalities associated with birth defects, reproductive abnormalities, and cancer. Specifically, they study chromosomal abnormalities with two centromeres, called dicentric chromosomes. Originally described by Nobelist Barbara McClintock in the 1930s, dicentrics in most organisms are considered inherently unstable chromosomes because they trigger genome instability. However, dicentric chromosomes in humans are very stable and are often transmitted through multiple generations of a family. Using several approaches to experimentally reproduce dicentric chromosomes in human cells, the lab explores mechanisms of dicentric formation and their long-term fate.
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