Active VSG expression sites in Trypanosoma brucei are depleted of nucleosomes.
ABSTRACT: African trypanosomes regulate transcription differently from other eukaryotes. Most of the trypanosome genome is constitutively transcribed by RNA polymerase II (Pol II) as large polycistronic transcription units while the genes encoding the major surface proteins are transcribed by RNA polymerase I (Pol I). In bloodstream form Trypanosoma brucei, the gene encoding the variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) coat is expressed in a monoallelic fashion from one of about 15 VSG bloodstream form expression sites (BESs). Little is known about the chromatin structure of the trypanosome genome, and the chromatin state of active versus silent VSG BESs remains controversial. Here, we determined histone H3 occupancy within the genome of T. brucei, focusing on active versus silent VSG BESs in the bloodstream form. We found that histone H3 was most enriched in the nontranscribed 50-bp and 177-bp repeats and relatively depleted in Pol I, II, and III transcription units, with particular depletion over promoter regions. Using two isogenic T. brucei lines containing marker genes in different VSG BESs, we determined that histone H3 is 11- to 40-fold depleted from active VSG BESs compared with silent VSG BESs. Quantitative PCR analysis of fractionated micrococcal nuclease-digested chromatin revealed that the active VSG BES is depleted of nucleosomes. Therefore, in contrast to earlier views, nucleosome positioning appears to be involved in the monoalleleic control of VSG BESs in T. brucei. This may provide a level of epigenetic regulation enabling bloodstream form trypanosomes to efficiently pass on the transcriptional state of active and silent BESs to daughter cells.
Project description:Subtelomeres consist of sequences adjacent to telomeres and contain genes involved in important cellular functions, as subtelomere instability is associated with several human diseases. Balancing between subtelomere stability and plasticity is particularly important for Trypanosoma brucei, a protozoan parasite that causes human African trypanosomiasis. T. brucei regularly switches its major variant surface antigen, variant surface glycoprotein (VSG), to evade the host immune response, and VSGs are expressed exclusively from subtelomeres in a strictly monoallelic fashion. Telomere proteins are important for protecting chromosome ends from illegitimate DNA processes. However, whether they contribute to subtelomere integrity and stability has not been well studied. We have identified a novel T. brucei telomere protein, T. brucei TRF-Interacting Factor 2 (TbTIF2), as a functional homolog of mammalian TIN2. A transient depletion of TbTIF2 led to an elevated VSG switching frequency and an increased amount of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) in both active and silent subtelomeric bloodstream form expression sites (BESs). Therefore, TbTIF2 plays an important role in VSG switching regulation and is important for subtelomere integrity and stability. TbTIF2 depletion increased the association of TbRAD51 with the telomeric and subtelomeric chromatin, and TbRAD51 deletion further increased subtelomeric DSBs in TbTIF2-depleted cells, suggesting that TbRAD51-mediated DSB repair is the underlying mechanism of subsequent VSG switching. Surprisingly, significantly more TbRAD51 associated with the active BES than with the silent BESs upon TbTIF2 depletion, and TbRAD51 deletion induced much more DSBs in the active BES than in the silent BESs in TbTIF2-depleted cells, suggesting that TbRAD51 preferentially repairs DSBs in the active BES.
Project description:In most eukaryotes, RNA polymerase I (Pol I) exclusively transcribes long arrays of identical rRNA genes (ribosomal DNA [rDNA]). African trypanosomes have the unique property of using Pol I to also transcribe the variant surface glycoprotein VSG genes. VSGs are important virulence factors because their switching allows trypanosomes to escape the host immune system, a mechanism known as antigenic variation. Only one VSG is transcribed at a time from one of 15 bloodstream-form expression sites (BESs). Although it is clear that switching among BESs does not involve DNA rearrangements and that regulation is probably epigenetic, it remains unknown why BESs are transcribed by Pol I and what roles are played by chromatin structure and histone modifications. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation, micrococcal nuclease digestion, and chromatin fractionation, we observed that there are fewer nucleosomes at the active BES and that these are irregularly spaced compared to silent BESs. rDNA coding regions are also depleted of nucleosomes, relative to the rDNA spacer. In contrast, genes transcribed by Pol II are organized in a more compact, regularly spaced, nucleosomal structure. These observations provide new insight on antigenic variation by showing that chromatin remodeling is an intrinsic feature of BES regulation.
Project description:The African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei monoallelically expresses one of more than 1000 Variant Surface Glycoprotein (VSG) genes. The active VSG is transcribed from one of about 15 telomeric VSG expression sites (ESs). It is unclear how monoallelic expression of VSG is controlled, and how inactive VSG ESs are silenced. Here, we show that blocking synthesis of the T. brucei FACT subunit TbSpt16 triggers a G2/early M phase cell cycle arrest in both bloodstream and insect form T. brucei. Segregation of T. brucei minichromosomes in these stalled cells is impaired, implicating FACT in maintenance of centromeres. Strikingly, knock-down of TbSpt16 results in 20- to 23-fold derepression of silent VSG ES promoters in bloodstream form T. brucei, with derepression specific to the G2/M cell cycle stage. In insect form T. brucei TbSpt16 knock-down results in 16- to 25-fold VSG ES derepression. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), TbSpt16 was found to be particularly enriched at the promoter region of silent but not active VSG ESs in bloodstream form T. brucei. The chromatin remodeler FACT is therefore implicated in maintenance of repressed chromatin present at silent VSG ES promoters, but is also essential for chromosome segregation presumably through maintenance of functional centromeres.
Project description:The unicellular eukaryote Trypanosoma brucei is unusual in having very little transcriptional control. The bulk of the T. brucei genome is constitutively transcribed by RNA polymerase II (Pol II) as extensive polycistronic transcription units. Exceptions to this rule include several RNA Pol I transcription units such as the VSG expression sites (ESs), which are mono-allelically expressed. TbISWI, a member of the SWI2/SNF2 related chromatin remodeling ATPases, plays a role in repression of Pol I-transcribed ESs in both bloodstream- and procyclic-form T. brucei. We show that TbISWI binds both active and silent ESs but is depleted from the ES promoters themselves. TbISWI knockdown results in an increase in VSG transcripts from the silent VSG ESs. In addition to its role in the repression of the silent ESs, TbISWI also contributes to the downregulation of the Pol I-transcribed procyclin loci, as well as nontranscribed VSG basic copy arrays and minichromosomes. We also show that TbISWI is enriched at a number of strand switch regions which form the boundaries between Pol II transcription units. These strand switch regions are the presumed sites of Pol II transcription initiation and termination and are enriched in modified histones and histone variants. Our results indicate that TbISWI is a versatile chromatin remodeler that regulates transcription at multiple Pol I loci and is particularly abundant at many Pol II transcription boundaries in T. brucei.
Project description:Monoallelic exclusion ensures that the African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei exclusively expresses only 1 of thousands of different variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) coat genes. The active VSG is transcribed from 1 of 15 polycistronic bloodstream-form VSG expression sites (ESs), which are controlled in a mutually exclusive fashion. Unusually, T. brucei uses RNA polymerase I (Pol I) to transcribe the active ES, which is unprecedented among eukaryotes. This active ES is located within a unique extranucleolar Pol I body called the expression-site body (ESB). A stringent restriction mechanism prevents T. brucei from expressing multiple ESs at the same time, although how this is mediated is unclear. By using drug-selection pressure, we generated VSG double-expresser T. brucei lines, which have disrupted monoallelic exclusion, and simultaneously express 2 ESs in a dynamic fashion. The 2 unstably active ESs appear epigenetically similar to fully active ESs as determined by using chromatin immunoprecipitation for multiple epigenetic marks (histones H3 and H1, TDP1, and DNA base J). We find that the double-expresser cells, similar to wild-type single-expresser cells, predominantly contain 1 subnuclear ESB, as determined using Pol I or the ESB marker VEX1. Strikingly, simultaneous transcription of the 2 dynamically transcribed ESs is normally observed only when the 2 ESs are both located within this single ESB. This colocalization is reversible in the absence of drug selection. This discovery that simultaneously active ESs dynamically share a single ESB demonstrates the importance of this unique subnuclear body in restricting the monoallelic expression of VSG.
Project description:BACKGROUND:African trypanosomes (including Trypanosoma brucei) are unicellular parasites which multiply in the mammalian bloodstream. T. brucei has about twenty telomeric bloodstream form Variant Surface Glycoprotein (VSG) expression sites (BESs), of which one is expressed at a time in a mutually exclusive fashion. BESs are polycistronic transcription units, containing a variety of families of expression site associated genes (ESAGs) in addition to the telomeric VSG. These polymorphic ESAG families are thought to play a role in parasite-host adaptation, and it has been proposed that ESAG diversity might be related to host range. Analysis of the genetic diversity of these telomeric gene families has been confounded by the underrepresentation of telomeric sequences in standard libraries. We have previously developed a method to selectively isolate sets of trypanosome BES containing telomeres using Transformation associated recombination (TAR) cloning in yeast. RESULTS:Here we describe the isolation of repertoires of BES containing telomeres from three trypanosome subspecies: Trypanosoma brucei gambiense DAL 972 (causative agent of West-African trypanosomiasis), T. b. brucei EATRO 2340 (a nonhuman infective strain) and T. equiperdum STIB 818 (which causes a sexually transmitted disease in equines). We have sequenced and analysed the genetic diversity at four BES loci (BES promoter region, ESAG6, ESAG5 and ESAG2) from these three trypanosome BES repertoires. CONCLUSION:With the exception of ESAG2, the BES sequence repertoires derived from T. b. gambiense are both less diverse than and nearly reciprocally monophyletic relative to those from T. b. brucei and T. equiperdum. Furthermore, although we find evidence for adaptive evolution in all three ESAG repertoires in T. b. brucei and T. equiperdum, only ESAG2 appears to be under diversifying selection in T. b. gambiense. This low level of variation in the T. b. gambiense BES sequence repertoires is consistent both with the relatively narrow host range of this subspecies and its apparent long-term clonality. However, our data does not show a clear correlation between size of trypanosome host range and either number of BESs or extent of ESAG genetic diversity.
Project description:The African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei is a unicellular eukaryote, which relies on a protective Variant Surface Glycoprotein (VSG) coat for survival in the mammalian host. A single trypanosome has >2000 VSG genes and pseudogenes of which only one is expressed from one of ~15 telomeric bloodstream form expression sites (BESs). Infectious metacyclic trypanosomes present within the tsetse fly vector also express VSG from a separate set of telomeric metacyclic ESs (MESs). All MESs are silenced in bloodstream form T. brucei. As very little is known about how this is mediated, we performed a whole genome RNAi library screen to identify MES repressors. This allowed us to identify a novel SAP domain containing DNA binding protein which we called TbSAP. TbSAP is enriched at the nuclear periphery and binds both MESs and BESs. Knockdown of TbSAP in bloodstream form trypanosomes did not result in cells becoming more ‘metacyclic’-like. Instead, there was extensive global upregulation of transcripts including MES VSGs, VSGs within the silent VSG arrays as well as genes immediately downstream of BES promoters. TbSAP therefore appears to be a novel architectural chromatin protein playing an important role in silencing the extensive VSG repertoire of bloodstream form T. brucei.
Project description:The African trypanosome, Trypanosoma brucei, is a flagellated pathogenic protozoan that branched early from the eukaryotic lineage. Unusually, it uses RNA polymerase I (Pol I) for mono-telomeric expression of variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) genes in bloodstream-form cells. Many other subtelomeric VSG genes are reversibly repressed, but no repressive DNA sequence has been identified in any trypanosomatid. Here, we show that artificially seeded de novo telomeres repress Pol I-dependent gene expression in mammalian bloodstream and insect life-cycle stages of T. brucei. In a telomeric VSG expression site, repression spreads further along the chromosome and this effect is specific to the bloodstream stage. We also show that de novo telomere extension is telomerase dependent and that the rate of extension correlates with the expression level of the adjacent gene. Our results show constitutive telomeric repression in T. brucei and indicate that an enhanced, developmental stage-specific repression mechanism controls antigenic variation.
Project description:Monoallelic expression within a gene family is found in pathogens exhibiting antigenic variation and in mammalian olfactory neurons. Trypanosoma brucei, a lethal parasite living in the human bloodstream, expresses variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) from 1 of 15 bloodstream expression sites (BESs) by virtue of a multifunctional RNA polymerase I. The active BES is transcribed in an extranucleolar compartment termed the expression site body (ESB), whereas silent BESs, located elsewhere within the nucleus, are repressed epigenetically. The regulatory mechanisms, however, are poorly understood. Here we show that two essential subunits of the basal class I transcription factor A (CITFA) predominantly occupied the promoter of the active BES relative to that of a silent BES, a phenotype that was maintained after switching BESs in situ. In these experiments, high promoter occupancy of CITFA was coupled to high levels of both promoter-proximal RNA abundance and RNA polymerase I occupancy. Accordingly, fluorescently tagged CITFA-7 was concentrated in the nucleolus and the ESB. Because a ChIP-seq analysis found that along the entire BES, CITFA-7 is specifically enriched only at the promoter, our data strongly indicate that monoallelic BES transcription is activated by a mechanism that functions at the level of transcription initiation.
Project description:Trypanosoma brucei switches between variant surface glycoproteins (VSGs) allowing immune escape. The active VSG is in one of many telomeric bloodstream form VSG expression sites (BESs), also containing expression site-associated genes (ESAGs) involved in host adaptation. The role of BES sequence diversity in parasite virulence can best be understood through analysis of the full repertoire of BESs from a given T. brucei strain. However, few BESs have been cloned, as telomeres are highly underrepresented in standard libraries. We devised a strategy for isolating the repertoire of T. brucei 427 BES-containing telomeres in Saccaromyces cerevisiae by using transformation-associated recombination (TAR). We isolated 182 T. brucei 427 BES TAR clones, 167 of which could be subdivided into minimally 17 BES groups. This set gives us the first view of the breadth and diversity of BESs from one T. brucei strain. Most BESs ranged between 40 and 70 kb (average, 57 +/- 17 kb) and contained most identified ESAGs. Phylogenetic comparison of the cohort of BES promoter and ESAG6 sequences did not show similar trees, indicating rapid evolution most likely mediated by sequence exchange between BESs. This cloning strategy could be used for any T. brucei strain, facilitating research on the biodiversity of telomeric gene families and host-pathogen interactions.