Nucleolar dominance: uniparental gene silencing on a multi-megabase scale in genetic hybrids

Plant Mol Biol. 2000 Jun;43(2-3):163-77. doi: 10.1023/a:1006471009225.


Nucleolar dominance is a phenomenon in hybrids or allopolyploids in which nucleoli form on chromosomes inherited from only one of the two parents. The molecular basis for nucleolar dominance is the transcription by RNA polymerase I of only one parental set of ribosomal RNA genes (rRNA genes). These rRNA genes are clustered by the hundreds, or thousands, of copies, often spanning tens of millions of basepairs of chromosomal DNA at loci known as nucleolus organizer regions (NORs). Enforcement of nucleolar dominance appears to be accomplished by selectively silencing one set of rRNA genes via chemical modifications of chromatin. However, the mechanisms responsible for initially discriminating among the parental sets of rRNA genes and establishing nucleolar dominance remain unclear. Possibilities include mechanisms that act on each rRNA gene or mechanisms that affect whole NORs or even larger chromosomal domains. This review provides a historical perspective of nucleolar dominance research, explores the most popular hypotheses and their shortcomings, and offers some speculations concerning alternative hypotheses to be considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chimera
  • DNA, Plant / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant*
  • Gene Silencing
  • Genes, rRNA / genetics*
  • Nucleolus Organizer Region / genetics*


  • DNA, Plant