The importance of the promoter in Drosophila dosage compensation : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Genetics at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Massey University
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Dosage compensation is the equalisation of gene expression from unequal doses of genes. Drosophila males up-regulate transcription from their single X chromosome to equal that from the two female X chromosomes. Five malespecific lethal (msl) genes are required in males, and encode the main agents of the up-regulation. At least these proteins, together with either or both of two noncoding RNAs, form the MSL chromatin-modifying complex. Female-specific translational repression of a key component, msl2, limits the complex to males. The MSL complex binds to the X chromosome at hundreds of distinct loci, acetylates nucleosomes, and de-condenses the chromatin. Together with possibly many co-factors, the transcriptional up-regulation caused by MSL complex appears to counteract repressive factors to achieve an average effect of transcriptional doubling. Here, I have studied the initiation of MSL regulation on the X chromosome with a variety of approaches. In order to study early events, dosage compensation was induced in females with ectopic expression of msl2 from the tetracycline system. However, low background expression without activation prohibited further studies. To identify novel factors that affect dosage compensation, a reporter gene system based on variable eye size was evaluated. The system provided a dose-dependent phenotype, but could not report additional up-regulation by the MSL complex, and was thus unsuitable for the proposed mutational screen. The quantifiable lacZ gene was measured in a strict comparison of expression from an eye-specfic (GMR) or a constitutive (armadillo) promoter. At defined locations on the X chromsome, armadillo-lacZ acquired local compensation, but GMR-lacZ did not. Further modifications upstream of GMR-lacZ increased the response, and confirmed the importance of the promoter in attraction of dosage compensation. To corroborate this with the established importance of genic sequences in MSL attraction, a combinatorial model of attraction is proposed. The relative importance of early or constitutive expression was also tested, by providing GMR-lacZ with extra expression through the tetracycline system. A burst of embryonic expression, and constitutive expression, were both insufficient to increase dosage compensation of the transgene. Finally, the compensation of GMRmediated transgenes was confounded by ‘transvection’ effects of chromosome pairing. This effect may have wider implications on the study of compensation at individual genes.
Drosophila, Gene expression, Dosage compensation