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Title: Specialised transcription factories
Author: Xu, Meng
ISNI:       0000 0004 2743 6453
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2008
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The intimate relationship between the higher-order chromatin organisation and the regulation of gene expression is increasingly attracting attention in the scientific community. Thanks to high-resolution microscopy, genome-wide molecular biology tools (3C, ChIP-on-chip), and bioinformatics, detailed structures of chromatin loops, territories, and nuclear domains are gradually emerging. However, to fully reveal a comprehensive map of nuclear organisation, some fundamental questions remain to be answered in order to fit all the pieces of the jigsaw together. The underlying mechanisms, precisely organising the interaction of the different parts of chromatin need to be understood. Previous work in our lab hypothesised and verified the “transcription factory” model for the organisation of mammalian genomes. It is widely assumed that active polymerases track along their templates as they make RNA. However, after allowing engaged polymerases to extend their transcripts in tagged precursors (e.g., Br-U or Br-UTP), and immunolabelling the now-tagged nascent RNA, active transcription units are found to be clustered in nuclei, in small and numerous sites we call “transcription factories”. Previous work suggested the transcription machinery acts both as an enzyme as well as a molecular tie that maintains chromatin loops, and the different classes of polymerases are concentrated in their own dedicated factories. This thesis aims to further characterise transcription factories. Different genes are transcribed by different classes of RNA polymerase (i.e., I, II, or III), and the resulting transcripts are processed differently (e.g., some are capped, others spliced). Do factories specialise in transcribing particular subsets of genes? This thesis developed a method using replicating minichromosomes as probes to examine whether transcription occurs in factories, and whether factories specialise in transcribing particular sets of genes. Plasmids encoding the SV40 origin of replication are transfected into COS-7 cells, where they are assembled into minichromosomes. Using RNA fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH), sites where minichromosomes are transcribed are visualised as discrete foci, which specialise in transcribing different groups of genes. Polymerases I, II, and III units have their own dedicated factories, and different polymerase II promoters and the presence of an intron determine the nuclear location of transcription. Using chromosome conformation capture (3C), minichromosomes with similar promoters are found in close proximity. They are also found close to similar endogenous promoters and so are likely to share factories with them. In the second part of this thesis, I used RNA FISH to confirm results obtained by tiling microarrays. Addition of tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) to human umbilical vein endothelial cells induces an inflammatory response and the transcription of a selected sub-set of genes. My collaborators used tiling arrays to demonstrate a wave of transcription that swept along selected long genes on stimulation. RNA FISH confirmed these results, and that long introns are co-transcriptionally spliced. Results are consistent with one polymerase being engaged on an allele at any time, and with a major checkpoint that regulates polymerase escape from the first few thousand nucleotides into the long gene.
Supervisor: Cook, Peter R. Sponsor: Overseas Research Student Award ; Clarendon Award ; E.P. Abreham Fund
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Life Sciences ; Biochemistry ; Biology ; Cell Biology (see also Plant sciences) ; Genetics (life sciences) ; Mammalian chromosome ; Medical Sciences ; Biology (medical sciences) ; Genetics (medical sciences) ; Pathology ; Microscopy ; Molecular genetics ; Molecular biophysics (biochemistry) ; transcription factories ; transcription ; nuclear organisation ; chromosome ; genome organisation ; chromosome conformation ; chromosome organisation ; gene expression ; microarray ; transcription wave ; in situ hybridisation ; fluorescence microscopy ; chromosome structure ; genomic ; genome