NUP1, the first example of a nuclear lamin analog in nonmetazoans, performs roles similar to those of lamins in maintaining the structure and organization of the nucleus in Trypanosoma brucei.
A unifying feature of eukaryotic nuclear organization is genome segregation into transcriptionally active euchromatin and transcriptionally repressed heterochromatin. In metazoa, lamin proteins preserve nuclear integrity and higher order heterochromatin organization at the nuclear periphery, but no non-metazoan lamin orthologues have been identified, despite the likely presence of nucleoskeletal elements in many lineages. This suggests a metazoan-specific origin for lamins, and therefore that distinct protein elements must compose the nucleoskeleton in other lineages. The trypanosomatids are highly divergent organisms and possess well-documented but remarkably distinct mechanisms for control of gene expression, including polycistronic transcription and trans-splicing. NUP-1 is a large protein localizing to the nuclear periphery of Trypanosoma brucei and a candidate nucleoskeletal component. We sought to determine if NUP-1 mediates heterochromatin organization and gene regulation at the nuclear periphery by examining the influence of NUP-1 knockdown on morphology, chromatin positioning, and transcription. We demonstrate that NUP-1 is essential and part of a stable network at the inner face of the trypanosome nuclear envelope, since knockdown cells have abnormally shaped nuclei with compromised structural integrity. NUP-1 knockdown also disrupts organization of nuclear pore complexes and chromosomes. Most significantly, we find that NUP-1 is required to maintain the silenced state of developmentally regulated genes at the nuclear periphery; NUP-1 knockdown results in highly specific mis-regulation of telomere-proximal silenced variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) expression sites and procyclin loci, indicating a disruption to normal chromatin organization essential to life-cycle progression. Further, NUP-1 depletion leads to increased VSG switching and therefore appears to have a role in control of antigenic variation. Thus, analogous to vertebrate lamins, NUP-1 is a major component of the nucleoskeleton with key roles in organization of the nuclear periphery, heterochromatin, and epigenetic control of developmentally regulated loci.
Eukaryotes—fungi, plants, animals, and many unicellular organisms—are defined by the presence of a cell nucleus that contains the chromosomes and is enveloped by a lipid membrane lined on the inner face with a protein network called the lamina. Among other functions, the lamina serves as an anchorage site for the ends of chromosomes. In multicellular animals (metazoa), the lamina comprises a few related proteins called lamins, which are very important for many functions related to the nucleus; abnormal lamins result in multiple nuclear defects and diseases, including inappropriate gene expression and premature aging. Until now, however, lamins had been found only in metazoa; no protein of equivalent function had been identified in plants, fungi, or unicellular organisms. Here, we describe a protein from African trypanosomes—the single-cell parasites that cause sleeping sickness—that fulfils many lamin-like roles, including maintaining nuclear structure and organizing the chromosomes of this organism. We show that this protein, which we call NUP-1 for nuclear periphery protein-1, is vital for the antigenic variation mechanisms that allow the parasite to escape the host immune response. We propose that NUP-1 is a lamin analogue that performs similar functions in trypanosomes to those of authentic lamins in metazoa. These findings, we believe, have important implications for understanding the evolution of the nucleus.