A pol I transcriptional body associated with VSG mono-allelic expression in Trypanosoma brucei

Nature. 2001 Dec 13;414(6865):759-63. doi: 10.1038/414759a.


In the mammalian host, African trypanosomes generate consecutive waves of parasitaemia by changing their antigenic coat. Because this coat consists of a single type of variant surface glycoprotein (VSG), the question arises of how a trypanosome accomplishes the transcription of only one of a multi-allelic family of VSG expression site loci to display a single VSG type on the surface at any one time. No major differences have been detected between the single active expression site and the cohort of inactive expression sites. Here we identify an extranucleolar body containing RNA polymerase I (pol I) that is transcriptionally active and present only in the bloodstream form of the parasite. Visualization of the active expression site locus by tagging with green fluorescent protein shows that it is specifically located at this unique pol I transcriptional factory. The presence of this transcriptional body in postmitotic nuclei and its stability in the nucleus after DNA digestion provide evidence for a coherent structure. We propose that the recruitment of a single expression site and the concomitant exclusion of inactive loci from a discrete transcriptional body define the mechanism responsible for VSG mono-allelic expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genes, Protozoan
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • RNA Polymerase I / metabolism*
  • RNA, Protozoan / biosynthesis
  • RNA, Ribosomal / biosynthesis
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / enzymology*
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / physiology
  • Trypanosomiasis, African / blood
  • Trypanosomiasis, African / parasitology
  • Variant Surface Glycoproteins, Trypanosoma / blood
  • Variant Surface Glycoproteins, Trypanosoma / genetics*


  • RNA, Protozoan
  • RNA, Ribosomal
  • Variant Surface Glycoproteins, Trypanosoma
  • RNA Polymerase I