We have investigated the subcellular organization of the four human Y RNAs. These RNAs, which are transcribed by RNA polymerase III, are usually found complexed with the Ro autoantigen, a 60-kD protein. We designed 2'-OMe oligoribonucleotides that were complementary to accessible single-stranded regions of Y RNAs within Ro RNPs and used them in fluorescence in situ hybridization. Although all four Y RNAs were primarily cytoplasmic, oligonucleotides directed against three of the RNAs hybridized to discrete structures near the nucleolar rim. We have termed these structures "perinucleolar compartments" (PNCs). Double labeling experiments with appropriate antisera revealed that PNCs are distinct from coiled bodies and fibrillar centers. Co-hybridization with a genomic DNA clone spanning the human Y1 and Y3 genes showed that PNCs are not stably associated with the transcription site for these Y RNAs. Although 5S rDNA was often located near the nucleolar periphery, PNCs are not associated with 5S gene loci. Two additional pol III transcripts, the RNA components of RNase P and RNase MRP, did colocalize within PNCs. Most interestingly, the polypyrimidine tract-binding protein hnRNP I/PTB was also concentrated in this compartment. Possible roles for this novel nuclear subdomain in macromolecular assembly and/or nucleocytoplasmic shuttling of these five pol III transcripts, along with hnRNP I/PTB, are discussed.

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