Background: The compaction of DNA in chromatin in eukaryotes allowed the expansion of genome size and coincided with significant evolutionary diversification. However, chromatin generally represses DNA function, and mechanisms coevolved to regulate chromatin structure and its impact on DNA. This included the selection of specific nucleosome positions to modulate accessibility to the DNA molecule. Trypanosoma brucei, a member of the Excavates supergroup, falls in an ancient evolutionary branch of eukaryotes and provides valuable insight into the organization of chromatin in early genomes. Results: We have mapped nucleosome positions in T. brucei and identified important differences compared to other eukaryotes: The RNA polymerase II initiation regions in T. brucei do not exhibit pronounced nucleosome depletion, and show little evidence for defined −1 and +1 nucleosomes. In contrast, a well-positioned nucleosome is present directly on the splice acceptor sites within the polycistronic transcription units. The RNA polyadenylation sites were depleted of nucleosomes, with a single well-positioned nucleosome present immediately downstream of the predicted sites. The regions flanking the silent variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) gene cassettes showed extensive arrays of well-positioned nucleosomes, which may repress cryptic transcription initiation. The silent VSG genes themselves exhibited a less regular nucleosomal pattern in both bloodstream and procyclic form trypanosomes. The DNA replication origins, when present within silent VSG gene cassettes, displayed a defined nucleosomal organization compared with replication origins in other chromosomal core regions. Conclusions: Our results indicate that some organizational features of chromatin are evolutionarily ancient, and may already have been present in the last eukaryotic common ancestor.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology