By: Stefanie Böhm,  Department of Molecular biosciences, The Wenner-Gren Institute

Academic dissertation for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Cell Biology at Stockholm University to be publicly defended on Friday 23 May 2014 at 10.00 in Lecture hall E306, Arrheniuslaboratorierna, Svante Arrhenius Väg 20 C.


Non-protein-coding RNA
Transcription and regulation of ribosomal RNA



Cell growth and proliferation are processes in the cell that must be tightly regulated. Transcription of ribosomal RNA and ribosomal biogenesis are directly linked to cell growth and proliferation, since the ribosomal RNA encodes for the majority of transcription in a cell and ribosomal biogenesis influences directly the number of proteins that are synthesized.

In the work presented in this thesis, we have investigated the ribosomal RNA genes, namely the ribosomal DNA genes and the 5S rRNA genes, and their transcriptional regulation. One protein complex that is involved in RNA polymerase I and III transcription is the chromatin remodelling complex B‑WICH (WSTF, SNF2h, NM1). RNA polymerase I transcribes the rDNA gene, while RNA polymerase III transcribes the 5S rRNA gene, among others. In Study I we determined the mechanism by which B‑WICH is involved in regulating RNA polymerase I transcription. B‑WICH is associated with the rDNA gene and was able to create a more open chromatin structure, thereby facilitating the binding of HATs and the subsequent histone acetylation. This resulted in a more active transcription of the ribosomal DNA gene. In Study II we wanted to specify the role of NM1 in RNA polymerase I transcription. We found that NM1 is not capable of remodelling chromatin in the same way as B‑WICH, but we demonstrated also that NM1 is needed for active RNA polymerase I transcription and is able to attract the HAT PCAF. In Study III we investigated the intergenic part of the ribosomal DNA gene. We detected non-coding RNAs transcribed from the intergenic region that are transcribed by different RNA polymerases and that are regulated differently in different stress situations. Furthermore, these ncRNAs are distributed at different locations in the cell, suggesting that they have different functions. In Study IV we showed the involvement of B‑WICH in RNA Pol III transcription and, as we previously had shown in Study I that B‑WICH is able to create a more open chromatin structure, in this case by acting as a licensing factor for c- Myc and the Myc/Max/Mxd network.

Taken together, we have revealed the mechanism by which the B‑WICH complex is able to regulate RNA Pol I and Pol III transcription and we have determined the role of NM1 in the B‑WICH complex. We conclude that B‑WICH is an important factor in the regulation of cell growth and proliferation. Furthermore, we found that the intergenic spacer of the rDNA gene is actively transcribed, producing ncRNAs. Different cellular locations suggest that the ncRNAs have different functions.

Keywords: ribosomal RNA, non-coding RNA, ribosomal genes, rDNA gene, B-WICH, chromatin remodelling, histone modification.