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X chromosomes: Undoing a hairpin doubles gene activity
Date:7/29/2013

Male fruit flies have one X chromosome per cell, females have two. So genes on the male X must work twice as hard to produce the same amount of protein as its female counterparts. A team of researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich has found a new switch involved in making this possible.

In the fruit fly Drosophila -- as in humans -- the sexes have different sets of chromosomes. While females have two X chromosomes in their somatic cells, males have one X and one copy of the much smaller Y. The latter determines maleness but carries very few genes, while the X chromosome has thousands of genes. Many of these encode essential proteins that must be made in equal amounts in both sexes, and males that fail to meet this requirement are inviable.

The males make up for the difference in X chromosome copy number by ensuring that each gene on their X chromosome is expressed at twice the rate of its equivalent on a female X, a phenomenon known as dosage compensation. The so-called Dosage Compensation Complex (DCC) is responsible for distinguishing the X chromosome from the others in males and doubling the level of activity of most of the genes it contains. The DCC is a complicated molecular machine which, in addition to so-called MSL proteins, contains two long RNA molecules (referred to as roX RNAs). "Correct incorporation of roX RNAs is known to be essential for DCC function, but how this is accomplished has been unclear," says LMU biologist Professor Peter Becker, who studies how the operation of the DCC is regulated.

Switching to the binding mode

Members of his team have now discovered that a change in the structural conformation of the roX RNAs is a prerequisite for the functional activation of DCC. These RNAs all contain a characteristic hairpin structure, which is conserved in various fly species. "We have long supposed that such a widely conserved structure must be of functional significance, b
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Contact: Luise Dirscherl
dirscherl@lmu.de
49-892-180-2706
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitt Mnchen
Source:Eurekalert

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