Unusual distribution pattern of telomeric repeats in the shrews Sorex araneus and Sorex granarius

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Sorex araneus and Sorex granarius are sibling species within the Sorex araneus group with karyotypes composed of almost identical chromosome arms. S. granarius has a largely acrocentric karyotype, while, in S. araneus, various of these acrocentrics have combined together by Robertsonian (Rb) fusions to form metacentrics, with the numbers and types of metacentrics differing between chromosomal races. Our studies on telomeric sequences in S. araneus and S. granarius revealed differences between chromosomes and between species. In S. araneus (the Novosibirsk race), hybridization signals were present on the telomeres of all the chromosomes after FISH with a PCR-generated telomeric probe. In addition, hybridization signals were observed at high frequencies in the pericentric regions of some but not all metacentrics formed by Rb fusion. There were fewer signals on those metacentrics formed earlier in the evolution of S. araneus. This suggests that S. araneus chromosomes retain at least some telomeric repeats during Rb fusion, but that these repeats are lost or modified over time. These results are critical for the interpretation of the well-studied hybrid zones between chromosomal races of S. araneus, given that Rb fission has been postulated in such hybrid zones and that the likelihood of Rb fission will relate to presence/absence of telomeric sequences at the centromeres of metacentrics. In S. granarius, there were strong signals at the proximal (centromeric) telomeres of the acrocentrics after FISH with a DNA telomeric probe. FISH with a PNA telomeric probe on S. granarius acrocentrics showed that the proximal telomeres were 213 kb on average, while the length of the distal telomeres was 3.8 kb on average. Two-colour FISH, using a telomeric DNA probe and a microdissected probe generated from the pericentric regions of the S. granarius chromosomes a and b, revealed regions on distinct chromatin fibres where telomeric and microdissected probes were colocalized or localized sequentially. The proximal telomeres of S. granarius are highly unusual both in their large size and their heterogeneous structure relative to the telomeres of other mammals.

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