GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Approval Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

First Thesis Advisor

Job Dekker, PhD


Chromosomes, Protein Conformation, Fungal Mating Type Genes, Saccharomycetales, Genetic Recombination


Dissertations, UMMS; Chromosomes; Protein Conformation; Genes, Mating Type, Fungal; Saccharomycetales; Recombination, Genetic


A hierarchy of different chromosome conformations plays a role in many biological systems. These conformations contribute to the regulation of gene expression, cellular development, chromosome transmission, and defects can lead to human disease. The highest functional level of this hierarchy is the partitioning of the genome into compartments of active and inactive chromatin domains (1’s -10’s Mb). These compartments are further partitioned into Topologically Associating Domains (TADs) that spatially cluster co-regulated genes (100’s kb – 1’s Mb). The final level that has been observed is long range loops formed between regulatory elements and promoters (10’s kb – 100’s Mb). At all of these levels, mechanisms that establish these conformations remain poorly understood. To gain new insights into processes that determine chromosome folding I used the mating type switching system in budding yeast to study the chromosome conformation at length scales analogous to looping interaction. I specifically examined the role in chromosome conformation in the mating type switching system. Budding yeast cells can have two sexes: MATa and MATα. The mating types are determined by allele-specific expression of the MAT locus on chromosome III. The MATa allele encodes for transcription factors responsible for the MATa mating type and the MATα allele encodes transcription factors responsible for the MATα mating type. Yeast cells can switch their mating type by a process that repairs a break at MAT using one of two silent loci, HML or HMR, as a donor to convert the allele at the MAT locus. When MATa cells switch they prefer to use HML, which contains the MATα allele, located at the end of the left arm. MATα cells prefer to use HMR, which contains the MATa allele, located on the end of the right arm of chromosome III. The sequences of the HM loci are not important for donor preference. Instead the cell chooses the donor on the left arm in MATa cells and chooses the donor on the right arm in MATα cells. This lack of sequence specificity has led to the hypothesis that the conformation of the chromosome may play a role in donor preference. I found that the conformation of chromosome III is, indeed, different between the two mating types. In MATa cells the chromosomes displays a more crumpled conformation in which the left arm of the chromosome interacts with a large region of the right arm which includes the centromere and the MAT locus. In MATα cells, on the other hand, the left arm of the chromosomes displays a more extend conformation. I found that the Recombination Enhancer (RE), which enhances recombination along the left arm of the chromosome in MATa cells, is responsible for these mating type-specific conformations. Deleting the RE affects the conformation of the chromosomes in both MATa and MATα cells. The left portion of the RE, which is essential for donor preference during the switching reaction in MATa cells, does not contribute to the conformation in MATa. This region does have a minor effect on the conformation in MATα cells. However, I found that the right portion of the RE is responsible for the conformation of chromosome III in both mating types prior to initiation of switching. This work demonstrates that chromosome conformation is determined by specific cis regulatory elements that drive cell-type specific chromosome conformation.



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