The Drosophila hsr omega locus produces one of the largest and most active heat shock puffs, yet it does not encode a heat shock protein. Instead, this locus produces a distinctive set of three transcripts, all from the same start site. The largest transcript, omega 1, is limited to the nucleus and appears to have a role there. A second nuclear transcript, omega 2, is produced by alternative termination and contains the sequence found in the 5' 20-25% of omega 1 (depending on the Drosophila species). The cytoplasmic transcript, omega 3, is produced by removal of a 700-bp intron from omega 2. All three hsr omega RNAs are produced constitutively and production is enhanced by heat shock. In addition to being a member of the set of heat shock puffs, the hsr omega puff is induced by agents that do not affect other heat shock loci, suggesting that hsr omega is more sensitive to environmental changes than other loci. We report here that agents that induce puffing of hsr omega loci in polytene nuclei also lead to an increase in hsr omega transcripts in diploid cells. We also show that the relative levels of omega 1 and omega 3 can be modulated independently by several agents. All drugs that inhibit translation, either initiation or elongation, stabilize the omega 3 transcript, which normally turns over within minutes in control cells. Drugs (such as benzamide and colchicine) that induce puffing of hsr omega, but not other heat shock loci, lead to large increases in omega 1. Although the constitutive level of omega 1 is relatively stable, the drug-induced excess is lost rapidly when the drug is withdrawn. The relative levels of hsr omega transcripts may reflect different states in cellular metabolism.

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