The relationship of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) synthesis to nucleolar ultrastructure was studied in partial nucleolar mutants of Xenopus laevis. These mutations are the result of a partial deletion of rRNA genes and therefore alow studies on nucleolar structure and function without using drugs that inhibit rRNA synthesis. Ultrastructural studies demonstrated that normal embryos have reticulated nucleoli that are composed of a loose meshwork of granules and fibrils and a typical nucleolonema. In contrast, partial nucleolar mutants in which rRNA synthesis is reduced to less than 50% of the normal rate have compact nucleoli and nucleolus-like bodies. The compace nucleoli contain granules and fibrils, but they are segregated into distinct regions, and a nucleolonema is never seen. Since other species of RNA are synthesized normally by partial nucleolar mutants, these results demonstrate that nucleolar segragation is related specifically to a reduction in rRNA synthesis. The nucleolus-like bodies are composed mainly of fibrils,and the number of such bodies are composed mainly of fibrils, and the number of such bodies present in the different nucleolar mutants is inversely related to the relative rate of rRNA synthesis. Although the partial nucleolar organizers produce segregated nucleoli in these mutants, they organize morphologically normal, but smaller, nucleoli in heterozygous embryos. Alternative explanations to account for these results are discussed.

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