Nuclear non-coding RNAs are transcribed from the centromeres of Plasmodium falciparum and are associated with centromeric chromatin.
Promoter Regions, Genetic
Non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) play an important role in a variety of nuclear processes, including genetic imprinting, RNA interference-mediated transcriptional repression, and dosage compensation. These transcripts are thought to influence chromosome organization and, in some cases, gene expression by directing the assembly of specific chromatin modifications to targeted regions of the genome. In the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, little is known about the regulation of nuclear organization or gene expression, although a notable scarcity of identifiable transcription factors encoded in its genome has led to speculation that this organism may be unusually reliant on chromatin modifications as a mechanism for regulating gene expression. To study the mechanisms that regulate chromatin structure in malaria parasites, we examined the role of ncRNAs in the assembly of chromatin at the centromeres of P. falciparum. We show that centromeric regions within the Plasmodium genome contain bidirectional promoter activity driving the expression of short ncRNAs that are localized within the nucleus and appear to associate with the centromeres themselves, strongly suggesting that they are central characters in the maintenance and function of centromeric chromatin. These observations support the hypothesis that ncRNAs play an important role in the proper organizational assembly of chromatin in P. falciparum, perhaps compensating for a lack of both regulatory transcription factors and RNA interference machinery.