Chromatin assembly involves the combined action of ATP-dependent motor proteins and histone chaperones. Because motor proteins in chromatin assembly also function as chromatin remodeling factors, we investigated the relationship between ATP-driven chromatin assembly and chromatin remodeling in the generation of periodic nucleosome arrays. We found that chromatin remodeling-defective Chd1 motor proteins are able to catalyze ATP-dependent chromatin assembly. The resulting nucleosomes are not, however, spaced in periodic arrays. Wild-type Chd1, but not chromatin remodeling-defective Chd1, can catalyze the conversion of randomly-distributed nucleosomes into periodic arrays. These results reveal a functional distinction between ATP-dependent nucleosome assembly and chromatin remodeling, and suggest a model for chromatin assembly in which randomly-distributed nucleosomes are formed by the nucleosome assembly function of Chd1, and then regularly-spaced nucleosome arrays are generated by the chromatin remodeling activity of Chd1. These findings uncover an unforeseen level of specificity in the role of motor proteins in chromatin assembly.
In many cells, genomic DNA is wrapped around proteins known as histones to produce particles called nucleosomes. These particles then join together—like beads on a string—to form a highly periodic structure called chromatin. In the nucleus, chromatin is further folded and condensed into chromosomes. However, many important processes, including the replication of DNA and the transcription of genes, require access to the DNA. The cell must therefore be able to disassemble chromatin and remove the histones, and then, once these processes are complete, to reassemble the chromatin. Enzymes known as chromatin assembly factors are responsible for the disassembly and reassembly of chromatin.
There are two main types of chromatin assembly factors in eukaryotic cells (i.e., cells with nuclei)—histone chaperones and motor proteins. The histone chaperones escort histones from the cytoplasm, where they are made, to the nucleus. The motor proteins—using energy supplied by ATP molecules—then catalyze the formation of nucleosomes. This involves two activities: the motor proteins assemble nucleosomes by helping the DNA to wrap around the histones, and they also remodel chromatin by altering the positions of nucleosomes along the DNA to ensure that they are periodic—that is, regularly spaced.
A conserved motor protein called Chd1 performs chromatin assembly and remodeling in eukaryotic cells. Chd1 works in conjunction with histone chaperones—both are needed for chromatin assembly, and so are DNA, histones and ATP. However, whether or not chromatin assembly and chromatin remodeling by Chd1 are identical or distinct processes is not well understood.
Torigoe et al. have now discovered a mutant Chd1 protein that has nucleosome assembly activity (i.e., it can make nucleosomes) but cannot remodel chromatin (i.e., it is unable to move nucleosomes), and thus have demonstrated that these two processes are functionally distinct. Torigoe et al. additionally have found that the mutant Chd1 proteins produce randomly distributed nucleosomes rather than the periodic arrays normally found in chromatin. Further analysis then revealed that the wild-type Chd1 protein, which can remodel chromatin, is able to convert randomly distributed nucleosomes into periodic arrays.
These findings have led to a new model for chromatin assembly in which Chd1 initially generates randomly distributed nucleosomes (via its assembly function), and then converts them into periodic arrays of nucleosomes (via its remodeling function). Together, these studies shed light on the mechanisms by which chromatin is created and manipulated in cells.