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1.  Chromatin remodeling of human subtelomeres and TERRA promoters upon cellular senescence 
Epigenetics  2013;8(5):512-521.
Subtelomeres are patchworks of evolutionary conserved sequence blocks and harbor the transcriptional start sites for telomere repeat containing RNAs (TERRA). Recent studies suggest that the interplay between telomeres and subtelomeric chromatin is required for maintaining telomere function. To further characterize chromatin remodeling of subtelomeres in relation to telomere shortening and cellular senescence, we systematically quantified histone modifications and DNA methylation at the subtelomeres of chromosomes 7q and 11q in primary human WI-38 fibroblasts. Upon senescence, both subtelomeres were characterized by a decrease in markers of constitutive heterochromatin, suggesting relative chromatin relaxation. However, we did not find increased levels of markers of euchromatin or derepression of the 7q VIPR2 gene. The repressed state of the subtelomeres was maintained upon senescence, which could be attributed to a rise in levels of facultative heterochromatin markers at both subtelomeres. While senescence-induced subtelomeric chromatin remodeling was similar for both chromosomes, chromatin remodeling at TERRA promoters displayed chromosome-specific patterns. At the 7q TERRA promoter, chromatin structure was co-regulated with the more proximal subtelomere. In contrast, the 11q TERRA promoter, which was previously shown to be bound by CCCTC-binding factor CTCF, displayed lower levels of markers of constitutive heterochromatin that did not change upon senescence, whereas levels of markers of facultative heterochromatin decreased upon senescence. In line with the chromatin state data, transcription of 11q TERRA but not 7q TERRA was detected. Our study provides a detailed description of human subtelomeric chromatin dynamics and shows distinct regulation of the TERRA promoters of 7q and 11q upon cellular senescence.
PMCID: PMC3741221  PMID: 23644601
TERRA transcripts; cellular aging; chromatin remodeling; histone modifications; senescence; subtelomere
2.  Molecular Landscape of Modified Histones in Drosophila Heterochromatic Genes and Euchromatin-Heterochromatin Transition Zones 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(1):e16.
Constitutive heterochromatin is enriched in repetitive sequences and histone H3-methylated-at-lysine 9. Both components contribute to heterochromatin's ability to silence euchromatic genes. However, heterochromatin also harbors hundreds of expressed genes in organisms such as Drosophila. Recent studies have provided a detailed picture of sequence organization of D. melanogaster heterochromatin, but how histone modifications are associated with heterochromatic sequences at high resolution has not been described. Here, distributions of modified histones in the vicinity of heterochromatic genes of normal embryos and embryos homozygous for a chromosome rearrangement were characterized using chromatin immunoprecipitation and genome tiling arrays. We found that H3-di-methylated-at-lysine 9 (H3K9me2) was depleted at the 5′ ends but enriched throughout transcribed regions of heterochromatic genes. The profile was distinct from that of euchromatic genes and suggests that heterochromatic genes are integrated into, rather than insulated from, the H3K9me2-enriched domain. Moreover, the profile was only subtly affected by a Su(var)3–9 null mutation, implicating a histone methyltransferase other than SU(VAR)3–9 as responsible for most H3K9me2 associated with heterochromatic genes in embryos. On a chromosomal scale, we observed a sharp transition to the H3K9me2 domain, which coincided with increased retrotransposon density in the euchromatin-heterochromatin (eu-het) transition zones on the long chromosome arms. Thus, a certain density of retrotransposons, rather than specific boundary elements, may demarcate Drosophila pericentric heterochromatin. We also demonstrate that a chromosome rearrangement that created a new eu-het junction altered H3K9me2 distribution and induced new euchromatic sites of enrichment as far as several megabases away from the breakpoint. Taken together, the findings argue against simple classification of H3K9me as the definitive signature of silenced genes, and clarify roles of histone modifications and repetitive DNAs in heterochromatin. The results are also relevant for understanding the effects of chromosome aberrations and the megabase scale over which epigenetic position effects can operate in multicellular organisms.
Author Summary
The chromosomal domain “heterochromatin” was first defined at the cytological level by its deeply staining appearance compared to more lightly stained domains called “euchromatin.” Abnormal juxtaposition of these two domains by chromosome rearrangements results in silencing of the nearby euchromatic genes. This effect is mediated by heterochromatin-enriched chromosomal proteins and led to the prevalent view of heterochromatin as incompatible with gene expression. Paradoxically, some expressed genes reside within heterochromatin. In this study, we examined how heterochromatic genes fit into a genomic context known for silencing effects. We found that Drosophila heterochromatic genes are integrated into the domain enriched in the modified histone H3K9me2, suggesting that the effect of this protein on gene expression is context-dependent. We also investigated the molecular nature of euchromatin-heterochromatin transition zones in the normal and rearranged chromosomes. The results provide insights into the functions of repetitive DNAs and H3K9me2 in heterochromatin and document the long distance over which a heterochromatic breakpoint can affect the molecular landscape of a chromosomal region. These findings have implications for understanding the consequences of chromosome abnormalities in organisms, including humans.
PMCID: PMC2211541  PMID: 18208336
3.  Age-associated increase in heterochromatic marks in murine and primate tissues 
Aging cell  2010;10(2):292-304.
Chromatin is highly dynamic and subject to extensive remodeling under many physiological conditions. Changes in chromatin that occur during the aging process are poorly documented and understood in higher organisms, such as mammals. We developed an immunofluorescence assay to quantitatively detect, at the single cell level, changes in the nuclear content of chromatin-associated proteins. We find increased levels of the heterochromatin-associated proteins histone macro H2A (mH2A) and heterochromatin protein 1 beta (HP1β) in human fibroblasts during replicative senescence in culture, and for the first time, an age-associated increase in these heterochromatin marks in several tissues of mice and primates. Mouse lung was characterized by monophasic mH2A expression histograms at both ages, and an increase in mean staining intensity at old age. In the mouse liver we observed increased age-associated localization of mH2A to regions of pericentromeric heterochromatin. In skeletal muscle we found two populations of cells with either low or high mH2A levels. This pattern of expression was similar in mouse and baboon, and showed a clear increase in the proportion of nuclei with high mH2A levels in older animals. The frequencies of cells displaying evidence of increased heterochromatinization are too high to be readily accounted for by replicative or oncogene-induced cellular senescence, and are prominently found in terminally differentiated, post mitotic tissues that are not conventionally thought to be susceptible to senescence. Our findings distinguish specific chromatin states in individual cells of mammalian tissues, and provide a foundation to further investigate the progressive epigenetic changes that occur during aging.
PMCID: PMC3079313  PMID: 21176091
4.  Stress-Induced Activation of Heterochromatic Transcription 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(10):e1001175.
Constitutive heterochromatin comprising the centromeric and telomeric parts of chromosomes includes DNA marked by high levels of methylation associated with histones modified by repressive marks. These epigenetic modifications silence transcription and ensure stable inheritance of this inert state. Although environmental cues can alter epigenetic marks and lead to modulation of the transcription of genes located in euchromatic parts of the chromosomes, there is no evidence that external stimuli can globally destabilize silencing of constitutive heterochromatin. We have found that heterochromatin-associated silencing in Arabidopsis plants subjected to a particular temperature regime is released in a genome-wide manner. This occurs without alteration of repressive epigenetic modifications and does not involve common epigenetic mechanisms. Such induced release of silencing is mostly transient, and rapid restoration of the silent state occurs without the involvement of factors known to be required for silencing initiation. Thus, our results reveal new regulatory aspects of transcriptional repression in constitutive heterochromatin and open up possibilities to identify the molecular mechanisms involved.
Author Summary
In eukaryotic cells, DNA is packaged into chromatin that is present in two different forms named euchromatin and heterochromatin. Gene-rich euchromatin is relaxed and permissive to transcription compared with heterochromatin that essentially contains transcriptionally inert non-coding repeated DNA. The silent state associated with heterochromatin correlates with the presence of distinctive repressive epigenetic modifications. Mutations in genes required for maintenance of these epigenetic marks reactivate heterochromatin transcription, which is otherwise maintained silent in a highly stable manner. In this paper, we defined a specific temperature stress that leads to genome-wide transcriptional activation of sequences located within heterochromatin of Arabidopsis thaliana. Unexpectedly, release of silencing occurs in spite of conservation of the repressive epigenetic marks and independently of common epigenetic regulators. In addition, we provide evidence that stress-induced transcriptional activation is mostly transient, and silencing is rapidly restored upon return to optimal growth conditions. These results are important in that they disclose the dynamics of silencing associated with heterochromatin as well as the existence of a new level of transcriptional control that might play a role in plant acclimation to changing environmental conditions.
PMCID: PMC2965753  PMID: 21060865
5.  Gerontology research in Georgia 
Biogerontology  2010;12(2):87-91.
Gerontology research carried out in different scientific centers of Georgia follows the basic directions of most work in this field: epidemiology, investigation of the mechanisms of aging, and finding ways to prevent senile pathologies and to prolong life. The genealogy and epidemiology of long-living peaple have been studied in areas with high occurrence of these people by considering the sex ratio and social status of the long-living, the influence of environmental factors, and the development of senile pathologies. According to the centrosome (centriole) model of aging, the centrosomes and the cytoskeleton, important structures in cellular differentiation and morphogenesis, may be involved in the initiation of the replication senescence mechanism. Our analysis of genetic studies shows that progressive chromosome heterochromatinization (condensation of eu- and heterochromatin regions) occurs in aging. Decreases in the repair processes and increases in the frequency of chromosome aberrations during aging are secondary to this progressive chromosome heterochromatinization. Chromosome heterochromatinization is a key factor in aging but may be reversible under the influence of bioregulators, some chemical substances, and heavy metal salts. The study of chromosome heterochromatinization may provide clues to the potential for prolonging the human lifespan.
PMCID: PMC3063552  PMID: 20480236
Aberration; Aging; Centrosome; Chromosome; Co2+; Epidemiology; Heterochromatin; Heterochromatinization; Microcalorimetry
6.  Comparative Analyses of SUV420H1 Isoforms and SUV420H2 Reveal Differences in Their Cellular Localization and Effects on Myogenic Differentiation 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e14447.
Methylation of histone H4 on lysine 20 plays critical roles in chromatin structure and function via mono- (H4K20me1), di- (H4K20me2), and trimethyl (H4K20me3) derivatives. In previous analyses of histone methylation dynamics in mid-gestation mouse embryos, we documented marked changes in H4K20 methylation during cell differentiation. These changes were particularly robust during myogenesis, both in vivo and in cell culture, where we observed a transition from H4K20me1 to H4K20me3. To assess the significance of this change, we used a gain-of-function strategy involving the lysine methyltransferases SUV420H1 and SUV420H2, which catalyze H4K20me2 and H4K20me3. At the same time, we characterized a second isoform of SUV420H1 (designated SUV420H1_i2) and compared the activity of all three SUV420H proteins with regard to localization and H4K20 methylation.
Principal Findings
Immunofluorescence revealed that exogenous SUV420H1_i2 was distributed throughout the cell, while a substantial portion of SUV420H1_i1 and SUV420H2 displayed the expected association with constitutive heterochromatin. Moreover, SUV420H1_i2 distribution was unaffected by co-expression of heterochromatin protein-1α, which increased the targeting of SUV420H1_i1 and SUV420H2 to regions of pericentromeric heterochromatin. Consistent with their distributions, SUV420H1_i2 caused an increase in H4K20me3 levels throughout the nucleus, whereas SUV420H1_i1 and SUV420H2 facilitated an increase in pericentric H4K20me3. Striking differences continued when the SUV420H proteins were tested in the C2C12 myogenic model system. Specifically, although SUV420H1_i2 induced precocious appearance of the differentiation marker Myogenin in the presence of mitogens, only SUV420H2 maintained a Myogenin-enriched population over the course of differentiation. Paradoxically, SUV420H1_i1 could not be expressed in C2C12 cells, which suggests it is under post-transcriptional or post-translational control.
These data indicate that SUV420H proteins differ substantially in their localization and activity. Importantly, SUV420H2 can induce a transition from H4K20me1 to H4K20me3 in regions of constitutive heterochromatin that is sufficient to enhance myogenic differentiation, suggesting it can act an as epigenetic ‘switch’ in this process.
PMCID: PMC3012056  PMID: 21206904
7.  CAF-1 Is Essential for Heterochromatin Organization in Pluripotent Embryonic Cells 
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(11):e181.
During mammalian development, chromatin dynamics and epigenetic marking are important for genome reprogramming. Recent data suggest an important role for the chromatin assembly machinery in this process. To analyze the role of chromatin assembly factor 1 (CAF-1) during pre-implantation development, we generated a mouse line carrying a targeted mutation in the gene encoding its large subunit, p150CAF-1. Loss of p150CAF-1 in homozygous mutants leads to developmental arrest at the 16-cell stage. Absence of p150CAF-1 in these embryos results in severe alterations in the nuclear organization of constitutive heterochromatin. We provide evidence that in wild-type embryos, heterochromatin domains are extensively reorganized between the two-cell and blastocyst stages. In p150CAF-1 mutant 16-cell stage embryos, the altered organization of heterochromatin displays similarities to the structure of heterochromatin in two- to four-cell stage wild-type embryos, suggesting that CAF-1 is required for the maturation of heterochromatin during preimplantation development. In embryonic stem cells, depletion of p150CAF-1 using RNA interference results in the mislocalization, loss of clustering, and decondensation of pericentric heterochromatin domains. Furthermore, loss of CAF-1 in these cells results in the alteration of epigenetic histone methylation marks at the level of pericentric heterochromatin. These alterations of heterochromatin are not found in p150CAF-1-depleted mouse embryonic fibroblasts, which are cells that are already lineage committed, suggesting that CAF-1 is specifically required for heterochromatin organization in pluripotent embryonic cells. Our findings underline the role of the chromatin assembly machinery in controlling the spatial organization and epigenetic marking of the genome in early embryos and embryonic stem cells.
Chromatin is the support of our genetic information. It is composed of numerous repeated units called nucleosomes, in which DNA wraps around a core of histone proteins. Modifications in the composition and biochemical properties of nucleosomes play major roles in the regulation of genome function. Such modifications are termed “epigenetic” when they are inherited across cell divisions and confer new information to chromatin, in addition to the genetic information provided by DNA. It is usually believed that during genome replication, the basic chromatin assembly machinery builds up “naïve” nucleosomes, and, in a subsequent step, nucleosomes are selectively modified by a series of enzymes to acquire epigenetic information. Here, the authors studied the role of a basic chromatin assembly factor (CAF-1) in mouse embryonic stem cells and early embryos. Surprisingly, they show that CAF-1 confers epigenetic information to specific genomic regions. In addition, this study revealed that CAF-1 is required for the proper spatial organization of chromosomes in the nucleus. This new knowledge may contribute to better understanding the role of chromatin in the maintenance of embryonic stem cell identity and plasticity.
PMCID: PMC1630711  PMID: 17083276
8.  Association of ATRX with pericentric heterochromatin and the Y chromosome of neonatal mouse spermatogonia 
Establishment of chromosomal cytosine methylation and histone methylation patterns are critical epigenetic modifications required for heterochromatin formation in the mammalian genome. However, the nature of the primary signal(s) targeting DNA methylation at specific genomic regions is not clear. Notably, whether histone methylation and/or chromatin remodeling proteins play a role in the establishment of DNA methylation during gametogenesis is not known. The chromosomes of mouse neonatal spermatogonia display a unique pattern of 5-methyl cytosine staining whereby centromeric heterochromatin is hypo-methylated whereas chromatids are strongly methylated. Thus, in order to gain some insight into the relationship between global DNA and histone methylation in the germ line we have used neonatal spermatogonia as a model to determine whether these unique chromosomal DNA methylation patterns are also reflected by concomitant changes in histone methylation.
Our results demonstrate that histone H3 tri-methylated at lysine 9 (H3K9me3), a hallmark of constitutive heterochromatin, as well as the chromatin remodeling protein ATRX remained associated with pericentric heterochromatin regions in spite of their extensive hypo-methylation. This suggests that in neonatal spermatogonia, chromosomal 5-methyl cytosine patterns are regulated independently of changes in histone methylation, potentially reflecting a crucial mechanism to maintain pericentric heterochromatin silencing. Furthermore, chromatin immunoprecipitation and fluorescence in situ hybridization, revealed that ATRX as well as H3K9me3 associate with Y chromosome-specific DNA sequences and decorate both arms of the Y chromosome, suggesting a possible role in heterochromatinization and the predominant transcriptional quiescence of this chromosome during spermatogenesis.
These results are consistent with a role for histone modifications and chromatin remodeling proteins such as ATRX in maintaining transcriptional repression at constitutive heterochromatin domains in the absence of 5-methyl cytosine and provide evidence suggesting that the establishment and/or maintenance of repressive histone and chromatin modifications at pericentric heterochromatin following genome-wide epigenetic reprogramming in the germ line may precede the establishment of chromosomal 5-methyl cytosine patterns as a genomic silencing strategy in neonatal spermatogonia.
PMCID: PMC2275742  PMID: 18366812
9.  Chromatin differentiation of white blood cells decreases DSB damage induction, prevents functional assembly of repair foci, but has no influence on protrusion of heterochromatic DSBs into the low-dense chromatin 
Journal of Radiation Research  2014;55(Suppl 1):i81-i82.
Purpose: Higher order chromatin structure progressively changes with cell differentiation and seems to play an important role in DNA double-strand break (DSB) induction and repair (reviewed in [1]). We compared DNA damage in heterochromatin (Hc) upon the action of qualitatively different radiations. We also studied, how is the sensitivity to DSB induction, assembly of repair foci and processing of DSBs influenced by the differentiation-induced changes in chromatin structure and composition.
Materials and methods: Formation, localization (relative to higher-order chromatin domains) and mutual colocalization of γH2AX and p53BP1 repair foci have been studied together with DSB repair kinetics in spatially fixed human skin fibroblast and differently differentiated white blood cells (WBC) irradiated with gamma rays, protons of different energies [2, 3], and 20Ne ions (submitted). Immunostaining and ImmunoFISH were used in combination with high-resolution confocal microscopy [2, 3] and living cell imaging [4].
Results: We found that less DSBs appear in Hc after irradiating cells with gamma rays and protons but not 20Ne ions (preliminary results). In addition, contrary to γ-irradiated human skin fibroblasts and lymphocytes, mature granulocytes neither express DSB repair proteins nor form functional repair foci [5]. At least some DSB repair proteins (e.g. 53BP1) are expressed and γH2AX foci still occur in immature granulocytes and monocytes [2, 5]; however, the colocalization of γH2AX with 53BP1 is low and the majority of DSBs are not repaired. Despite this fact, γH2AX foci protrude from Hc into nuclear subcompartments with low chromatin density. Our living cell observations suggest that 53BP1 can penetrate into the interior of dense Hc domains only after their decondensation [2].
Conclusions: We show that Hc is less sensitive to DSB induction by gamma rays but not heavy ions; lower Hc hydratation and higher protein density (when compared with euchromatin) probably reduce formation of free radicals and increase their sequestration, respectively. This mechanism can protect cells against the indirect effect of ionizing radiation (marked for gamma rays and protons but not heavy ions). Hc features, however, preclude DSB repair, which is best illustrated by its absence in differentiated WBC but not their immature precursors. The protrusion of Hc-DSBs into low-density chromatin nuclear subdomains, however, appears also in differentiated WBC, so the process might simply follow physical forces (e.g. as suggested by M Durante's group).
There is no Clinical Trial Registration number.
PMCID: PMC3941545
DNA double-strand breaks (DSB); DSB repair; white blood cells differentiation; higher-order chromatin structure; ionizing radiations of different quality; ionizing radiation-induced repair foci (IRIF)
10.  Analysis of Active and Inactive X Chromosome Architecture Reveals the Independent Organization of 30 nm and Large-Scale Chromatin Structures 
Molecular Cell  2010;40(3):397-409.
Using a genetic model, we present a high-resolution chromatin fiber analysis of transcriptionally active (Xa) and inactive (Xi) X chromosomes packaged into euchromatin and facultative heterochromatin. Our results show that gene promoters have an open chromatin structure that is enhanced upon transcriptional activation but the Xa and the Xi have similar overall 30 nm chromatin fiber structures. Therefore, the formation of facultative heterochromatin is dependent on factors that act at a level above the 30 nm fiber and transcription does not alter bulk chromatin fiber structures. However, large-scale chromatin structures on Xa are decondensed compared with the Xi and transcription inhibition is sufficient to promote large-scale chromatin compaction. We show a link between transcription and large-scale chromatin packaging independent of the bulk 30 nm chromatin fiber and propose that transcription, not the global compaction of 30 nm chromatin fibers, determines the cytological appearance of large-scale chromatin structures.
Graphical Abstract
► High-resolution chromatin analysis of active and inactive X chromosomes ► Gene promoters have a transcription-dependent open chromatin structure ► Active and inactive X chromosomes have similar bulk 30 nm chromatin fiber structures ► Transcription promotes the decompaction of large-scale chromatin structures
PMCID: PMC3038259  PMID: 21070966
11.  Retrotransposon-Induced Heterochromatin Spreading in the Mouse Revealed by Insertional Polymorphisms 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(9):e1002301.
The “arms race” relationship between transposable elements (TEs) and their host has promoted a series of epigenetic silencing mechanisms directed against TEs. Retrotransposons, a class of TEs, are often located in repressed regions and are thought to induce heterochromatin formation and spreading. However, direct evidence for TE–induced local heterochromatin in mammals is surprisingly scarce. To examine this phenomenon, we chose two mouse embryonic stem (ES) cell lines that possess insertionally polymorphic retrotransposons (IAP, ETn/MusD, and LINE elements) at specific loci in one cell line but not the other. Employing ChIP-seq data for these cell lines, we show that IAP elements robustly induce H3K9me3 and H4K20me3 marks in flanking genomic DNA. In contrast, such heterochromatin is not induced by LINE copies and only by a minority of polymorphic ETn/MusD copies. DNA methylation is independent of the presence of IAP copies, since it is present in flanking regions of both full and empty sites. Finally, such spreading into genes appears to be rare, since the transcriptional start sites of very few genes are less than one Kb from an IAP. However, the B3galtl gene is subject to transcriptional silencing via IAP-induced heterochromatin. Hence, although rare, IAP-induced local heterochromatin spreading into nearby genes may influence expression and, in turn, host fitness.
Author Summary
Transposable elements (TEs) are often thought to be harmful because of their potential to spread heterochromatin (repressive chromatin) into nearby sequences. However, there are few examples of spreading of heterochromatin caused by TEs, even though they are often found within repressive chromatin. We exploited natural variation in TE integrations to study heterochromatin induction. Specifically, we compared chromatin states of two mouse embryonic stem cell lines harboring polymorphic retrotransposons of three families, such that one line possesses a particular TE copy (full site) while the other does not (empty site). Nearly all IAP copies, a family of retroviral-like elements, are able to strongly induce repressive chromatin surrounding their insertion sites, with repressive histone modifications extending at least one kb from the IAP. This heterochromatin induction was not observed for the LINE family of non-viral retrotransposons and for only a minority of copies of the ETn/MusD retroviral-like family. We found only one gene that was partly silenced by IAP-induced chromatin. Therefore, while induction of repressive chromatin occurs after IAP insertion, measurable impacts on host gene expression are rare. Nonetheless, this phenomenon may play a role in rapid change in gene expression and therefore in host adaptive potential.
PMCID: PMC3183085  PMID: 21980304
12.  Genome mapping and characterization of the Anopheles gambiae heterochromatin 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:459.
Heterochromatin plays an important role in chromosome function and gene regulation. Despite the availability of polytene chromosomes and genome sequence, the heterochromatin of the major malaria vector Anopheles gambiae has not been mapped and characterized.
To determine the extent of heterochromatin within the An. gambiae genome, genes were physically mapped to the euchromatin-heterochromatin transition zone of polytene chromosomes. The study found that a minimum of 232 genes reside in 16.6 Mb of mapped heterochromatin. Gene ontology analysis revealed that heterochromatin is enriched in genes with DNA-binding and regulatory activities. Immunostaining of the An. gambiae chromosomes with antibodies against Drosophila melanogaster heterochromatin protein 1 (HP1) and the nuclear envelope protein lamin Dm0 identified the major invariable sites of the proteins' localization in all regions of pericentric heterochromatin, diffuse intercalary heterochromatin, and euchromatic region 9C of the 2R arm, but not in the compact intercalary heterochromatin. To better understand the molecular differences among chromatin types, novel Bayesian statistical models were developed to analyze genome features. The study found that heterochromatin and euchromatin differ in gene density and the coverage of retroelements and segmental duplications. The pericentric heterochromatin had the highest coverage of retroelements and tandem repeats, while intercalary heterochromatin was enriched with segmental duplications. We also provide evidence that the diffuse intercalary heterochromatin has a higher coverage of DNA transposable elements, minisatellites, and satellites than does the compact intercalary heterochromatin. The investigation of 42-Mb assembly of unmapped genomic scaffolds showed that it has molecular characteristics similar to cytologically mapped heterochromatin.
Our results demonstrate that Anopheles polytene chromosomes and whole-genome shotgun assembly render the mapping and characterization of a significant part of heterochromatic scaffolds a possibility. These results reveal the strong association between characteristics of the genome features and morphological types of chromatin. Initial analysis of the An. gambiae heterochromatin provides a framework for its functional characterization and comparative genomic analyses with other organisms.
PMCID: PMC3091655  PMID: 20684766
13.  Efficient transcriptional silencing in Saccharomyces cerevisiae requires a heterochromatin histone acetylation pattern. 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  1996;16(8):4349-4356.
Heterochromatin in metazoans induces transcriptional silencing, as exemplified by position effect variegation in Drosophila melanogaster and X-chromosome inactivation in mammals. Heterochromatic DNA is packaged in nucleosomes that are distinct in their acetylation pattern from those present in euchromatin, although the role these differences play in the structure of heterochromatin or in the effects of heterochromatin on transcriptional activity is unclear. Here we report that, as observed in the facultative heterochromatin of the inactive X chromosome in female mammalian cells, histones H3 and H4 in chromatin spanning the transcriptionally silenced mating-type cassettes of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae are hypoacetylated relative to histones H3 and H4 of transcriptionally active regions of the genome. By immunoprecipitation of chromatin fragments with antibodies specific for H4 acetylated at particular lysine residues, we found that only three of the four lysine residues in the amino-terminal domain of histone H4 spanning the silent cassettes are hypoacetylated. Lysine 12 shows significant acetylation levels. This is identical to the pattern of histone H4 acetylation observed in centric heterochromatin of D. melanogaster. These two observations provide additional evidence that the silent cassettes are encompassed in the yeast equivalent of metazoan heterochromatin. Further, mutational analysis of the amino-terminal domain of histone H4 in S. cerevisiae demonstrated that this observed pattern of histone H4 acetylation is required for transcriptional silencing. This result, in conjunction with prior mutational analyses of yeast histones H3 and H4, indicates that the particular pattern of nucleosome acetylation found in heterochromatin is required for its effects on transcription and is not simply a side effect of heterochromatin formation.
PMCID: PMC231433  PMID: 8754835
14.  Histone hypoacetylation is required to maintain late replication timing of constitutive heterochromatin 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(1):159-169.
The replication of the genome is a spatio-temporally highly organized process. Yet, its flexibility throughout development suggests that this process is not genetically regulated. However, the mechanisms and chromatin modifications controlling replication timing are still unclear. We made use of the prominent structure and defined heterochromatic landscape of pericentric regions as an example of late replicating constitutive heterochromatin. We manipulated the major chromatin markers of these regions, namely histone acetylation, DNA and histone methylation, as well as chromatin condensation and determined the effects of these altered chromatin states on replication timing. Here, we show that manipulation of DNA and histone methylation as well as acetylation levels caused large-scale heterochromatin decondensation. Histone demethylation and the concomitant decondensation, however, did not affect replication timing. In contrast, immuno-FISH and time-lapse analyses showed that lowering DNA methylation, as well as increasing histone acetylation, advanced the onset of heterochromatin replication. While dnmt1−/− cells showed increased histone acetylation at chromocenters, histone hyperacetylation did not induce DNA demethylation. Hence, we propose that histone hypoacetylation is required to maintain normal heterochromatin duplication dynamics. We speculate that a high histone acetylation level might increase the firing efficiency of origins and, concomitantly, advances the replication timing of distinct genomic regions.
PMCID: PMC3245938  PMID: 21908399
15.  Is HP1 an RNA detector that functions both in repression and activation? 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2003;161(4):671-672.
Heterochromatin is defined as regions of compact chromatin that persist throughout the cell cycle (Heitz, 1928). The earliest cytological observations of heterochromatin were followed by ribonucleotide labeling experiments that showed it to be transcriptionally inert relative to the more typical euchromatic regions that decondense during interphase. Genetic studies of rearrangements that place euchromatic genes next to blocks of heterochromatin also pointed out the repressive nature of heterochromatin (Grigliatti, 1991; and references therein). The discovery of the heterochromatin-enriched protein heterochromatin protein 1 (HP1)* by Elgin and co-workers in the mid-1980s suggested that the distinct cytological features of this chromatin may be related to its unique nucleoprotein composition (James and Elgin, 1986; James et al., 1989). HP1 immunostaining on polytene chromosomes from Drosophila larval salivary glands was used to show enrichment of the protein in pericentric heterochromatin. Since that initial discovery, HP1 homologues have been found in species ranging from fission yeast to humans where it is associated with gene silencing (Eissenberg and Elgin, 2000; and references therein). A number of euchromatic sites of localization were also reported in this original study. It has been generally assumed that these sites might constitute euchromatic sites of transcriptional repression by HP1. Indeed, several genes located at one of these sites (cytological region 31) have increased transcript levels in mutants for HP1 (Hwang et al., 2001).
PMCID: PMC2199371  PMID: 12771122
16.  Histone acetylation controls the inactive X chromosome replication dynamics 
Nature Communications  2011;2:222-.
In mammals, dosage compensation between male and female cells is achieved by inactivating one female X chromosome (Xi). Late replication of Xi was proposed to be involved in the maintenance of its silenced state. Here, we show a highly synchronous replication of the Xi within 1 to 2 h during early-mid S-phase by following DNA replication in living mammalian cells with green fluorescent protein-tagged replication proteins. The Xi was replicated before or concomitant with perinuclear or perinucleolar facultative heterochromatin and before constitutive heterochromatin. Ectopic expression of the X-inactive-specific transcript (Xist) gene from an autosome imposed the same synchronous replication pattern. We used mutations and chemical inhibition affecting different epigenetic marks as well as inducible Xist expression and we demonstrate that histone hypoacetylation has a key role in controlling Xi replication. The epigenetically controlled, highly coordinated replication of the Xi is reminiscent of embryonic genome replication in flies and frogs before genome activation and might be a common feature of transcriptionally silent chromatin.
How one copy of the X chromosome is silenced in replicating female somatic cells is poorly understood. Here, the authors demonstrate that the inactive X chromosome is replicated before constitutive heterochromatin and that histone hypoacetylation has a role in controlling replication of the inactive X chromosome.
PMCID: PMC3072080  PMID: 21364561
17.  Loss of Maternal ATRX Results in Centromere Instability and Aneuploidy in the Mammalian Oocyte and Pre-Implantation Embryo 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(9):e1001137.
The α-thalassemia/mental retardation X-linked protein (ATRX) is a chromatin-remodeling factor known to regulate DNA methylation at repetitive sequences of the human genome. We have previously demonstrated that ATRX binds to pericentric heterochromatin domains in mouse oocytes at the metaphase II stage where it is involved in mediating chromosome alignment at the meiotic spindle. However, the role of ATRX in the functional differentiation of chromatin structure during meiosis is not known. To test ATRX function in the germ line, we developed an oocyte-specific transgenic RNAi knockdown mouse model. Our results demonstrate that ATRX is required for heterochromatin formation and maintenance of chromosome stability during meiosis. During prophase I arrest, ATRX is necessary to recruit the transcriptional regulator DAXX (death domain associated protein) to pericentric heterochromatin. At the metaphase II stage, transgenic ATRX-RNAi oocytes exhibit abnormal chromosome morphology associated with reduced phosphorylation of histone 3 at serine 10 as well as chromosome segregation defects leading to aneuploidy and severely reduced fertility. Notably, a large proportion of ATRX-depleted oocytes and 1-cell stage embryos exhibit chromosome fragments and centromeric DNA–containing micronuclei. Our results provide novel evidence indicating that ATRX is required for centromere stability and the epigenetic control of heterochromatin function during meiosis and the transition to the first mitosis.
Author Summary
The transmission of an abnormal chromosome complement from the gametes to the early embryo, a condition called aneuploidy, is a major cause of congenital birth defects and pregnancy loss. Human embryos are particularly susceptible to aneuploidy, which in the majority of cases is the result of abnormal meiosis in the female gamete. However, the molecular mechanisms involved in the onset of aneuploidy in mammalian oocytes are not fully understood. We show here that, the α-thalassemia/mental retardation X-linked protein (ATRX) is essential for the maintenance of chromosome stability during female meiosis. ATRX is required to recruit the transcriptional regulator DAXX to pericentric heterochromatin at prophase I of meiosis. Notably, lack of ATRX function at the metaphase II stage interferes with the establishment of chromatin modifications associated with chromosome condensation leading to segregation defects, chromosome fragmentation, and severely reduced fertility. Our results provide direct evidence for a role of ATRX in the regulation of pericentric heterochromatin structure and function in mammalian oocytes and have important implications for our understanding of the epigenetic factors contributing to the onset of aneuploidy in the female gamete.
PMCID: PMC2944790  PMID: 20885787
18.  Primary and secondary clustering of DSB repair foci and repair kinetics compared for γ-rays, protons of different energies and high-LET 20Ne ions 
Journal of Radiation Research  2014;55(Suppl 1):i79-i80.
Purpose: Ionizing radiations of different qualities (e.g. high-LET and low-LET) might differently interact with structurally and functionally distinct higher order chromatin domains (discussed in [ 1] and citations therein); this might be reflected by DNA double strand break (DSB) repair efficiency and the mechanism of how cancerogenous chromosomal translocations (CHT) form. Therefore, we compared the DSB repair kinetics and formation of γH2AX/p53BP1 repair clusters upon the action of γ-rays [ 2, 3], protons (15 and 30 MeV) [ 4], and 20Ne ions (preliminary data). Consequently, we discuss biological impacts of these clusters.
Material and methods: Immunostaining methods in combination with high-resolution confocal microscopy, performed on 3D-fixed normal human skin fibroblasts [ 2– 4], were used to study initial distributions of γH2AX and p53BP1 repair foci and their changes during the post-irradiation (PI) time, with a special concern on foci clustering. Irradiations with γ-rays, protons of different energies (15 and 30 MeV), and high-LET 20Ne ions was performed in IBP ASCR Brno (CR), NPI AVCR Řež (CR) and JINR Dubna (Russia), respectively.
Results: Upon irradiating cells with 20Ne ions, tracks of multiple clustered γH2AX and p53BP1 repair foci appeared immediately after the irradiation; these clusters, called here as the ‘primary clusters’, were rare in cells irradiated with γ-rays or protons (submitted). Though γH2AX/p53BP1 foci were positionally quite stable [ 2], ‘secondary clusters’ occasionally appeared after all kinds of irradiation during about 30 min PI. The formation of secondary clusters usually appeared due to the heterochromatin decondensation at the sites of heterochromatic DNA double-strand breaks (hcDSBs), followed by their protrusion into a limited space of nuclear subdomains of low density-chromatin (discussed in [ 1, 2, 5]).
Conclusions: Primary clusters appear in cell nuclei immediately PI as the consequence of highly localized energy deposition, while secondary clusters develop during (and because of) DSB repair. Primary DSB clusters probably represent the main cause of chromosomal translocations induced with high-LET radiations while secondary clusters seem to be more important for low-LET γ-rays and protons. Secondary clusters of primary clusters (higher-order clusters) observed for 20Ne ions might explain frequent formation of complex translocations upon the action of high-LET radiations. Finally, we suggest [ 1, 2, 4] a model that describes the relationship between the higher order chromatin structure, DSB formation, repair and misrepair.
PMCID: PMC3941551
DNA double-strand breaks (DSB); DSB repair; chromosomal translocations; primary and secondary DSB clusters; higher order chromatin structure; ionizing radiation of different quality
19.  Species-Specific Heterochromatin Prevents Mitotic Chromosome Segregation to Cause Hybrid Lethality in Drosophila 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(10):e1000234.
Early embryonic lethality of interspecies hybrids in Drosophila can be caused by defects in mitotic segregation of paternal X chromatids carrying a critical domain of heterochromatic DNA.
Postzygotic reproductive barriers such as sterility and lethality of hybrids are important for establishing and maintaining reproductive isolation between species. Identifying the causal loci and discerning how they interfere with the development of hybrids is essential for understanding how hybrid incompatibilities (HIs) evolve, but little is known about the mechanisms of how HI genes cause hybrid dysfunctions. A previously discovered Drosophila melanogaster locus called Zhr causes lethality in F1 daughters from crosses between Drosophila simulans females and D. melanogaster males. Zhr maps to a heterochromatic region of the D. melanogaster X that contains 359-bp satellite repeats, suggesting either that Zhr is a rare protein-coding gene embedded within heterochromatin, or is a locus consisting of the noncoding repetitive DNA that forms heterochromatin. The latter possibility raises the question of how heterochromatic DNA can induce lethality in hybrids. Here we show that hybrid females die because of widespread mitotic defects induced by lagging chromatin at the time during early embryogenesis when heterochromatin is first established. The lagging chromatin is confined solely to the paternally inherited D. melanogaster X chromatids, and consists predominantly of DNA from the 359-bp satellite block. We further found that a rearranged X chromosome carrying a deletion of the entire 359-bp satellite block segregated normally, while a translocation of the 359-bp satellite block to the Y chromosome resulted in defective Y segregation in males, strongly suggesting that the 359-bp satellite block specifically and directly inhibits chromatid separation. In hybrids produced from wild-type parents, the 359-bp satellite block was highly stretched and abnormally enriched with Topoisomerase II throughout mitosis. The 359-bp satellite block is not present in D. simulans, suggesting that lethality is caused by the absence or divergence of factors in the D. simulans maternal cytoplasm that are required for heterochromatin formation of this species-specific satellite block. These findings demonstrate how divergence of noncoding repetitive sequences between species can directly cause reproductive isolation by altering chromosome segregation.
Author Summary
Speciation is most commonly understood to occur when two species can no longer reproduce with each other, and sterility and lethality of hybrids formed between different species are widely observed causes of such reproductive isolation. Several protein-coding genes have been previously discovered to cause hybrid sterility and lethality. We show here that first generation hybrid females in Drosophila die during early embryogenesis because of a failure in mitosis. However, we have discovered that this is not a general failure in mitosis, because only the paternally inherited X chromosome fails to segregate properly. Our analyses further demonstrate that this mitotic failure is caused by a large heterochromatic region of DNA (millions of base pairs) that contains many repetitive copies of short noncoding sequences that are normally transcriptionally quiescent. Interestingly, this block of heterochromatin is only found in the paternal species. We suggest that a failure of the maternal species to package this paternally inherited DNA region into heterochromatin leads to mitotic failure and hybrid lethality. If this is a general phenomenon it may explain other examples of hybrid lethality in which F1 females die but F1 males survive.
PMCID: PMC2760206  PMID: 19859525
20.  Corepressive Action of CBP on Androgen Receptor Transactivation in Pericentric Heterochromatin in a Drosophila Experimental Model System▿ †  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2008;29(4):1017-1034.
Ligand-bound nuclear receptors (NR) activate transcription of the target genes. This activation is coupled with histone modifications and chromatin remodeling through the function of various coregulators. However, the nature of the dependence of a NR coregulator action on the presence of the chromatin environment at the target genes is unclear. To address this issue, we have developed a modified position effect variegation experimental model system that includes an androgen-dependent reporter transgene inserted into either a pericentric heterochromatin region or a euchromatic region of Drosophila chromosome. Human androgen receptor (AR) and its constitutively active truncation mutant (AR AF-1) were transcriptionally functional in both chromosomal regions. Predictably, the level of AR-induced transactivation was lower in the pericentric heterochromatin. In genetic screening for AR AF-1 coregulators, Drosophila CREB binding protein (dCBP) was found to corepress AR transactivation at the pericentric region whereas it led to coactivation in the euchromatic area. Mutations of Sir2 acetylation sites or deletion of the CBP acetyltransferase domain abrogated dCBP corepressive action for AR at heterochromatic areas in vivo. Such a CBP corepressor function for AR was observed in the transcriptionally silent promoter of an AR target gene in cultured mammalian cells. Thus, our findings suggest that the action of NR coregulators may depend on the state of chromatin at the target loci.
PMCID: PMC2643800  PMID: 19075001
21.  Transcription of the Herpes Simplex Virus Latency-Associated Transcript Promotes the Formation of Facultative Heterochromatin on Lytic Promoters▿  
Journal of Virology  2009;83(16):8182-8190.
An important question in virology is the mechanism(s) by which persistent viruses such as the herpesviruses and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) establish a latent infection in specific types of cells. In the case of herpesviruses, herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection of epithelial cells results in a lytic infection, whereas latent infection is established in sensory neurons. Recent studies have shown the importance of chromatin structure in the regulation of latent infection for both HSV and HIV. For HSV, we have shown previously that the viral latency-associated transcript (LAT) promotes lytic gene silencing and the association of one heterochromatin marker, dimethylation of lysine 9 on histone H3 (H3K9me2), with viral lytic genes. In this study, we further defined the structure of latent viral chromatin by examining the heterochromatin markers on histones associated with the HSV latent genome. We detected the H3K9me2, H3K9me3, and H3K27me3 modifications, with H3K27me3, which is indicative of facultative heterochromatin, exhibiting the highest enrichment on all viral promoters tested. A modification associated with cellular centromeric heterochromatin, H4K20me3, was not detected. A mutant virus containing a 1.8-kbp deletion within the LAT region showed reduced levels of the facultative heterochromatin marker (H3K27me3) along with H3K9me3 during latency, whereas a viral mutant defective for the LAT promoter showed a specific reduction in H3K27me3. Cellular long, noncoding RNAs induce facultative heterochromatin, and this study shows that transcription of a viral noncoding RNA can also induce facultative heterochromatin to promote lytic gene silencing during latency.
PMCID: PMC2715743  PMID: 19515781
22.  Differential Uptake of Tritiated Thymidine into Hetero- and Euchromatin in Melanoplus and Secale 
Grasshoppers of the species Melanoplus differentialis were injected with tritium-labelled thymidine. At intervals thereafter autoradiographic stripping film was applied over Feulgen squashes and sections. In this species during early prophase of meiosis the sex chromosome forms a heterochromatic block large enough to be resolved in tritium autoradiographs. A study of the squash preparations reveals that the sex chromosome is synthesizing DNA at a different period of time from the euchromatic autosomes. Since there is a developmental sequence of spermatocyte cysts along the testicular tubes it is possible from the sections to show that the heterochromatin synthesizes DNA later than does the euchromatin. To find out whether the results obtained in Melanoplus were characteristic of heterochromatin in general, young seedlings of rye were grown in a tritiated thymidine solution and Feulgen squashes were made as for Melanoplus. In rye leaf nuclei there is a large block of heterochromatin constituted by the proximal regions of the chromosomes and a euchromatic one formed by the median and distal regions of the same chromosomes. Here also the heterochromatin synthesizes DNA at a different period of time from the euchromatin. It is concluded that in rye the asynchrony of synthesis occurs within each chromosome. Counts of silver grains over the two types of chromatin in nuclei of Melanoplus and Secale disclosed that the number of grains per unit area was two to three times higher over the heterochromatin. To check the DNA content, Feulgen photometric measurements were made of Melanoplus nuclei at the same stage. The Feulgen and grain counts agree in showing that the heterochromatin contains two to three times more DNA per unit area than the euchromatin.
PMCID: PMC2224700  PMID: 14416993
23.  Beyond Repair Foci: DNA Double-Strand Break Repair in Euchromatic and Heterochromatic Compartments Analyzed by Transmission Electron Microscopy 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e38165.
DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) generated by ionizing radiation pose a serious threat to the preservation of genetic and epigenetic information. The known importance of local chromatin configuration in DSB repair raises the question of whether breaks in different chromatin environments are recognized and repaired by the same repair machinery and with similar efficiency. An essential step in DSB processing by non-homologous end joining is the high-affinity binding of Ku70-Ku80 and DNA-PKcs to double-stranded DNA ends that holds the ends in physical proximity for subsequent repair.
Methods and Materials
Using transmission electron microscopy to localize gold-labeled pKu70 and pDNA-PKcs within nuclear ultrastructure, we monitored the formation and repair of actual DSBs within euchromatin (electron-lucent) and heterochromatin (electron-dense) in cortical neurons of irradiated mouse brain.
While DNA lesions in euchromatin (characterized by two pKu70-gold beads, reflecting the Ku70-Ku80 heterodimer) are promptly sensed and rejoined, DNA packaging in heterochromatin appears to retard DSB processing, due to the time needed to unravel higher-order chromatin structures. Complex pKu70-clusters formed in heterochromatin (consisting of 4 or ≥6 gold beads) may represent multiple breaks in close proximity caused by ionizing radiation of highly-compacted DNA. All pKu70-clusters disappeared within 72 hours post-irradiation, indicating efficient DSB rejoining. However, persistent 53BP1 clusters in heterochromatin (comprising ≥10 gold beads), occasionally co-localizing with γH2AX, but not pKu70 or pDNA-PKcs, may reflect incomplete or incorrect restoration of chromatin structure rather than persistently unrepaired DNA damage.
Higher-order organization of chromatin determines the accessibility of DNA lesions to repair complexes, defining how readily DSBs are detected and processed. DNA lesions in heterochromatin appear to be more complex, with multiple breaks in spatial vicinity inducing severe chromatin disruptions. Imperfect restoration of chromatin configurations may leave DSB-induced epigenetic memory of damage with potentially pathological repercussions.
PMCID: PMC3364237  PMID: 22666473
24.  Interaction of RNA polymerase II and the small RNA machinery affects heterochromatic silencing in Drosophila 
Heterochromatin is the tightly packaged dynamic region of the eukaryotic chromosome that plays a vital role in cellular processes such as mitosis and meiotic recombination. Recent experiments in Schizosaccharomyces pombe have revealed the structure of centromeric heterochromatin is affected in RNAi pathway mutants. It has also been shown in fission yeast that the heterochromatin barrier is traversed by RNA Pol II and that the passage of RNA Pol II through heterochromatin is important for heterochromatin structure. Thus, an intricate interaction between the RNAi machinery and RNA Pol II affects heterochromatin structure. However, the role of the RNAi machinery and RNA Pol II on the metazoan heterochromatin landscape is not known. This study analyses the interaction of the small RNA machinery and RNA Pol II on Drosophila heterochromatin structure.
The results in this paper show genetic and biochemical interaction between RNA Pol II (largest and second largest subunit) and small RNA silencing machinery components (dcr-2, ago1, ago2, piwi, Lip [D], aub and hls). Immunofluorescence analysis of polytene chromosomes from trans-heterozygotes of RNA Pol II and different mutations of the small RNA pathways show decreased H3K9me2 and mislocalization of Heterochromatin protein-1. A genetic analysis performed on these mutants showed a strong suppression of white-mottled4h position effect variegation. This was further corroborated by a western blot analysis and chromatin immunoprecipitation, which showed decreased H3K9me2 in trans-heterozygote mutants compared to wild type or single heterozygotes. Co-immunoprecipitation performed using Drosophila embryo extracts showed the RNA Pol II largest subunit interacting with Dcr-2 and dAGO1. Co-localization performed on polytene chromosomes showed RNA Pol II and dAGO1 overlapping at some sites.
Our experiments show a genetic and biochemical interaction between RNA Pol II (largest and second largest subunits) and the small RNA silencing machinery in Drosophila. The interaction has functional aspects in terms of determining H3K9me2 and HP-1 deposition at the chromocentric heterochromatin. Thus, RNA Pol II has an important role in establishing heterochromatin structure in Drosophila.
PMCID: PMC2785806  PMID: 19917092
25.  Heterochromatin Protein 1 (HP1a) Positively Regulates Euchromatic Gene Expression through RNA Transcript Association and Interaction with hnRNPs in Drosophila 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(10):e1000670.
Heterochromatin Protein 1 (HP1a) is a well-known conserved protein involved in heterochromatin formation and gene silencing in different species including humans. A general model has been proposed for heterochromatin formation and epigenetic gene silencing in different species that implies an essential role for HP1a. According to the model, histone methyltransferase enzymes (HMTases) methylate the histone H3 at lysine 9 (H3K9me), creating selective binding sites for itself and the chromodomain of HP1a. This complex is thought to form a higher order chromatin state that represses gene activity. It has also been found that HP1a plays a role in telomere capping. Surprisingly, recent studies have shown that HP1a is present at many euchromatic sites along polytene chromosomes of Drosophila melanogaster, including the developmental and heat-shock-induced puffs, and that this protein can be removed from these sites by in vivo RNase treatment, thus suggesting an association of HP1a with the transcripts of many active genes. To test this suggestion, we performed an extensive screening by RIP-chip assay (RNA–immunoprecipitation on microarrays), and we found that HP1a is associated with transcripts of more than one hundred euchromatic genes. An expression analysis in HP1a mutants shows that HP1a is required for positive regulation of these genes. Cytogenetic and molecular assays show that HP1a also interacts with the well known proteins DDP1, HRB87F, and PEP, which belong to different classes of heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoproteins (hnRNPs) involved in RNA processing. Surprisingly, we found that all these hnRNP proteins also bind heterochromatin and are dominant suppressors of position effect variegation. Together, our data show novel and unexpected functions for HP1a and hnRNPs proteins. All these proteins are in fact involved both in RNA transcript processing and in heterochromatin formation. This suggests that, in general, similar epigenetic mechanisms have a significant role on both RNA and heterochromatin metabolisms.
Author Summary
Heterochromatin Protein 1 (HP1a) is a very well known prototype protein of a general model for heterochromatin formation and epigenetic gene silencing in different species including humans. Here, we report our experiments showing that HP1a is also required for the positive regulation of more than one hundred euchromatic genes by its association with the corresponding RNA transcripts and by its interaction with heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoproteins (hnRNPs) belonging to different classes. Importantly, we also found that all the tested hnRNP proteins bind to the heterochromatin and are dominant suppressors of position effect variegation, thus suggesting they also have a role in heterochromatin organization. Taken together, our data show novel and important functions, not only for HP1a, but also for hnRNPs, which were previously believed to participate only in RNA processing. These results shed new light on the epigenetic mechanisms of gene silencing and gene expression. They also establish a link between RNA transcript metabolism and heterochromatin formation and change several aspects of the canonical views about these apparently different processes.
PMCID: PMC2743825  PMID: 19798443

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