Natural changes in the transcription of rRNA genes were studied in nucleoli from three oogenic stages of the newt Triturus alpestris with electron microscope, auto-radiographic, and biochemical techniques. From determinations of the uridine triphosphate pool sizes and [3H]uridine uptake, phosphorylation, and incorporation into 28S and 18S rRNAs in vivo it was estimated that the rate of rRNA synthesis was about 0.01% in previtellogenic oocytes and 13% in mature oocytes when compared to midvitellogenesis. Spread preparations of nucleoli showed significant morphological changes in the transcriptional complexes. The total number of lateral fibrils, i.e., ribonucleoproteins containing the nascent rRNA precursor, were drastically decreased in stages of reduced synthetic activity. This indicates that rRNA synthesis is regulated primarily at the level of transcription. The resulting patterns of fibril coverage of the nucleolar chromatin axes revealed a marked heterogeneity. On the same nucleolar axis occurred matrix units that were completely devoid of lateral fibrils, matrix units that were almost fully covered with lateral fibrils, and various forms of matrix units with a range of lateral fibril densities intermediate between the two extremes. Granular particles that were tentatively identified as RNA polymerase molecules were not restricted to the transciptional complexes. They were observed, although less regularly and separated by greater distances, in untranscribed spacer regions as well as in untranscribed gene intercepts. The results show that the pattern of transcriptional control of rRNA genes differs widely in different genes, even in the same genetic unit.

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