Histone posttranslational modifications (PTMs) play a pivotal role in regulating the dynamics and function of chromatin. Supported by an increasing body of literature, histone PTMs such as methylation and acetylation function together in the context of a “histone code,” which is read, or interpreted, by effector proteins that then drive a functional output in chromatin (e.g., gene transcription). A growing number of domains that interact with histones and/or their PTMs have been identified. While significant advances have been made in our understanding of how these domains interact with histones, a wide number of putative histone-binding motifs have yet to be characterized, and undoubtedly, novel domains will continue to be discovered. In this chapter, we provide a detailed method for the construction of combinatorially modified histone peptides, microarray fabrication using these peptides, and methods to characterize the interaction of effector proteins, antibodies, and the substrate specificity of histone-modifying enzymes. We discuss these methods in the context of other available technologies and provide a user-friendly approach to enable the exploration of histone–protein–enzyme interactions and function.
A fundamental challenge in mammalian biology has been elucidating mechanisms linking DNA methylation and histone post-translational modifications. Human UHRF1 (ubiquitin-like, PHD and RING finger containing 1) has multiple domains that bind chromatin and is implicated genetically in DNA methylation maintenance. However, molecular mechanisms underlying DNA methylation regulation by UHRF1 are poorly defined. Here we show that UHRF1 association with methylated histone H3 lysine 9 (H3K9) is required for DNA methylation maintenance. We further show that UHRF1 association with H3K9 methylation is insensitive to adjacent H3 serine 10 phosphorylation – a known mitotic ‘phospho/methyl switch.’ Importantly, we demonstrate that UHRF1 mitotic chromatin association is necessary for DNA methylation maintenance through regulation of DNMT1 stability. Collectively, our results define a novel link between H3K9 methylation and the faithful epigenetic inheritance of DNA methylation, establishing an unexpected mitotic role for UHRF1 in this process.
UHRF1; DNA methylation; histones; post-translational modifications; epigenetics
An obstacle in the treatment of human diseases such as cancer is the inability to selectively and effectively target historically undruggable targets such as transcription factors. Here, we employ a novel technology using artificial transcription factors (ATFs) to epigenetically target gene expression in cancer cells. We show that site-specific DNA methylation and long-term stable repression of the tumor suppressor Maspin and the oncogene SOX2 can be achieved in breast cancer cells via zinc-finger ATFs targeting DNA methyltransferase 3a (DNMT3a) to the promoters of these genes. Using this approach, we show Maspin and SOX2 downregulation is more significant as compared with transient knockdown, which is also accompanied by stable phenotypic reprogramming of the cancer cell. These findings indicate that multimodular Zinc Finger Proteins linked to epigenetic editing domains can be used as novel cell resources to selectively and heritably alter gene expression patterns to stably reprogram cell fate.
Maspin; SOX2; artificial transcription factors (ATFs); breast cancer; cancer cell reprogramming; DNA Methylation; epigenetic reprogramming; epigenetics; Zinc Finger Proteins (ZFPs)
Antibodies specific for histone post-translational modifications (PTMs) have been central to our understanding of chromatin biology. Here, we describe an unexpected and novel property of histone H4 site-specific acetyl antibodies in that they prefer poly-acetylated histone substrates. By all current criteria, these antibodies have passed specificity standards. However, we find these site-specific histone antibodies preferentially recognize chromatin signatures containing two or more adjacent acetylated lysines. Significantly, we find that the poly-acetylated epitopes these antibodies prefer are evolutionarily conserved and are present at levels that compete for these antibodies over the intended individual acetylation sites. This alarming property of acetyl-specific antibodies has far-reaching implications for data interpretation and may present a challenge for the future study of acetylated histone and non-histone proteins.
Histones, the fundamental packaging elements of eukaryotic DNA, are highly decorated with a diverse set of post-translational modifications (PTMs) that are recognized to govern the structure and function of chromatin. Ten years ago, we put forward the histone code hypothesis, which provided a model to explain how single and/or combinatorial PTMs on histones regulate the diverse activities associated with chromatin (e.g. gene transcription). At that time, there was a limited understanding of both the number of PTMs that occur on histones as well as the proteins that place, remove and interpret them. Since the conception of this hypothesis, the field has witnessed an unprecedented advance in our understanding of the enzymes that contribute to the establishment of histone PTMs, as well as the diverse effector proteins that bind them. While debate continues as to whether histone PTMs truly constitute a strict “code”, it is becoming clear that PTMs on histone proteins function in elaborate combinations to regulate the many activities associated with chromatin. In this special issue, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landmark publication of the lac operon with a review that provides a current view of the histone code hypothesis, the lessons we have learned over the last decade, and the technologies that will drive our understanding of histone PTMs forward in the future.
The transcription factor (TF) SOX2 is essential for the maintenance of pluripotency and self-renewal in embryonic stem cells. In addition to its normal stem cell function, SOX2 over-expression is associated with cancer development. The ability to selectively target this and other oncogenic TFs in cells, however, remains a significant challenge due to the ‘undruggable’ characteristics of these molecules. Here, we employ a zinc finger (ZF)-based artificial TF (ATF) approach to selectively suppress SOX2 gene expression in cancer cells. We engineered four different proteins each composed of 6ZF arrays designed to bind 18 bp sites in the SOX2 promoter and enhancer region, which controls SOX2 methylation. The 6ZF domains were linked to the Kruppel Associated Box (SKD) repressor domain. Three engineered proteins were able to bind their endogenous target sites and effectively suppress SOX2 expression (up to 95% repression efficiencies) in breast cancer cells. Targeted down-regulation of SOX2 expression resulted in decreased tumor cell proliferation and colony formation in these cells. Furthermore, induced expression of an ATF in a mouse model inhibited breast cancer cell growth. Collectively, these findings demonstrate the effectiveness and therapeutic potential of engineered ATFs to mediate potent and long-lasting down-regulation of oncogenic TF expression in cancer cells.
We report a general method to examine the recognition of post-translational modifications (PTMs) by antibodies and proteins. We use this method to evaluate the binding of modification-specific antibodies and chromatin-associating factors to an array of high-purified, biotinylated peptides (derived from human histone sequences) harboring multiple PTMs printed onto streptavidin-coated glass slides. We find that modification-specific antibodies are both more promiscuous in their PTM recognition than expected and highly influenced by neighboring PTMs. Binding of chromatin-associating factors is also influenced by combinatorial PTMs, giving further support for the “Histone Code” hypothesis. Thus we report the first thorough characterization of PTM influence on antibody recognition and describe a tool for the rapid and inexpensive assessment of chromatin-associating factor binding specificity.
The rate of meiotic recombination in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae varies widely in different regions of the genome with some genes having very high levels of recombination (hotspots). A variety of experiments done in yeast suggest that hotspots are a feature of chromatin structure rather than a feature of primary DNA sequence. We examined the effects of mutating a variety of enzymes that affect chromatin structure on the recombination activity of the well-characterized HIS4 hotspot including the Set2p and Dot1p histone methylases, the Hda1p and Rpd3p histone deacetylases, the Sin4p global transcription regulator, and a deletion of one of the two copies of the genes encoding histone H3–H4. Loss of Set2p or Rpd3p substantially elevated HIS4 hotspot activity, and loss of Hda1p had a smaller stimulatory effect; none of the other alterations had a significant effect. The increase of HIS4 hotspot activity in set2 and rpd3 strains is likely to be related to the recent finding that histone H3 methylation by Set2p directs deacetylation of histones by Rpd3p.
The Ccr4-Not complex is a key eukaryotic regulator of gene transcription and cytoplasmic mRNA degradation. Whether this complex also affects aspects of post-transcriptional gene regulation, such as mRNA export, remains largely unexplored. Human Caf1 (hCaf1), a Ccr4-Not complex member, interacts with and regulates the arginine methyltransferase PRMT1, whose targets include RNA binding proteins involved in mRNA export. However, the functional significance of this regulation is poorly understood.
Here we demonstrate using co-immunoprecipitation approaches that Ccr4-Not subunits interact with Hmt1, the budding yeast ortholog of PRMT1. Furthermore, using genetic and biochemical approaches, we demonstrate that Ccr4-Not physically and functionally interacts with the heterogenous nuclear ribonucleoproteins (hnRNPs) Nab2 and Hrp1, and that the physical association depends on Hmt1 methyltransferase activity. Using mass spectrometry, co-immunoprecipitation and genetic approaches, we also uncover physical and functional interactions between Ccr4-Not subunits and components of the nuclear pore complex (NPC) and we provide evidence that these interactions impact mRNA export.
Taken together, our findings suggest that Ccr4-Not has previously unrealized functional connections to the mRNA processing/export pathway that are likely important for its role in gene expression. These results shed further insight into the biological functions of Ccr4-Not and suggest that this complex is involved in all aspects of mRNA biogenesis, from the regulation of transcription to mRNA export and turnover.
Recent technological advancements have allowed for highly-sophisticated mass spectrometry-based studies of the histone code, which predicts that combinations of post-translational modifications (PTMs) on histone proteins result in defined biological outcomes mediated by effector proteins that recognize such marks. While significant progress has been made in the identification and characterization of histone PTMs, a full appreciation of the complexity of the histone code will require a complete understanding of all the modifications that putatively contribute to it. Here, using the top-down mass spectrometry approach for identifying PTMs on full-length histones, we report that lysine 37 of histone H2B is dimethylated in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. By generating a modification-specific antibody and yeast strains that harbor mutations in the putative site of methylation, we provide evidence that this mark exist in vivo. Importantly, we show that this lysine residue is highly conserved through evolution, and provide evidence that this methylation event also occurs in higher eukaryotes. By identifying a novel site of histone methylation, this study adds to our overall understanding of the complex number of histone modifications that contribute to chromatin function.
Determining the forces that conserve amino acid positions in proteins across species is a fundamental pursuit of molecular evolution. Evolutionary conservation is driven by either a protein's function or its thermodynamic stability. Highly conserved histone proteins offer a platform to evaluate these driving forces. While the conservation of histone H3 and H4 “tail” domains and surface residues are driven by functional importance, the driving force behind the conservation of buried histone residues has not been examined. Using a computational approach, we determined the thermodynamically preferred amino acids at each buried position in H3 and H4. In agreement with what is normally observed in proteins, we find a significant correlation between thermodynamic stability and evolutionary conservation in the buried residues in H4. In striking contrast, we find that thermodynamic stability of buried H3 residues does not correlate with evolutionary conservation. Given that these H3 residues are not post-translationally modified and only regulate H3-H3 and H3-H4 stabilizing interactions, our data imply an unknown function responsible for driving conservation of these buried H3 residues.
Most proteins fold to a well-defined, three-dimensional structure, which can be delineated into the protein surface and its buried core. When comparing amino acid sequences of the same protein from different organisms, we would expect to find certain residue positions conserved due to the importance of that position in either maintaining the protein's function or its three-dimensional structure. In this study, we looked at residues in the buried core domains of histone proteins H3 and H4, which have no known function other than maintaining the three-dimensional structure of the protein. We find that perturbing protein stability (which is a measure of maintenance of the protein's structure) by mutating these residues compromises survival fitness in yeast. However, the stability conferred by buried amino acids of H3 alone cannot account for their evolutionary conservation, which is in striking contrast to other proteins where stability has been shown to be the driving force for sequence conservation. This conservation of H3 thus points to either new additional functions of H3 that have not been uncovered or a unique conservation mechanism that goes beyond survival pressure. These data therefore reveal a highly conserved domain that is distinct in its evolutionary conservation.
Histone H2B monoubiquitination by Rad6/Bre1 is required for the trimethylation of both histone H3K4 and H3K79 by COMPASS and Dot1 methyltransferases, respectively. The dependency of methylation at H3K4 and H3K79 on the monoubiquitination of H2BK123 was recently challenged, and extragenic mutations in the strain background used for previous studies or epitope-tagged proteins were suggested to be the sources of this discrepancy. In this study, we show that H3K4 and H3K79 methylation is solely dependent on H2B monoubiquitination regardless of any additional alteration to the H2B sequence or genome. Furthermore, we report that Y131, one of the yeast histone H2A/H2B shuffle strains widely used for the last decade in the field of chromatin and transcription biology, carries a wild-type copy of each of the HTA2 and HTB2 genes under the GAL1/10 promoter on chromosome II. Therefore, we generated the entire histone H2A and H2B alanine-scanning mutant strains in another background, which does not express wild-type histones.
Histone lysine (K) acetylation is a major mechanism by which cells regulate the structure and function of chromatin, and new sites of acetylation continue to be discovered. Here we identify and characterize histone H3K36 acetylation (H3K36ac). By mass spectrometric analyses of H3 purified from Tetrahymena thermophila and Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast), we find that H3K36 can be acetylated or methylated. Using an antibody specific to H3K36ac, we show that this modification is conserved in mammals. In yeast, genome-wide ChIP-chip experiments show that H3K36ac is localized predominantly to the promoters of RNA polymerase II-transcribed genes, a pattern inversely related to that of H3K36 methylation. The pattern of H3K36ac localization is similar to that of other sites of H3 acetylation, including H3K9ac and H3K14ac. Using histone acetyltransferase complexes purified from yeast, we show that the Gcn5-containing SAGA complex that regulates transcription specifically acetylates H3K36 in vitro. Deletion of GCN5 completely abolishes H3K36ac in vivo. These data expand our knowledge of the genomic targets of Gcn5, show H3K36ac is highly conserved, and raise the intriguing possibility that the transition between H3K36ac and H3K36me acts as an “acetyl/methyl switch” governing chromatin function along transcription units.
Posttranslational modifications (PTMs) of proteins play essential roles in regulating signaling, protein-protein modifications and subcellular localization. In this review, we focus on posttranslational modification of histones and RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) and their roles in gene transcription. A survey of the basic features of PTMs is provided followed by a more detailed account of how PTMs on histones and RNAPII regulate transcription in the model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We emphasize the interconnections between histone and RNAPII PTMs and speculate upon the larger role PTMs have in regulating protein function in the cell.
posttranslational modifications; histones; transcription; RNA polymerase II; chromatin
Set2 (KMT3)-dependent methylation (me) of histone H3 at lysine 36 (H3K36) promotes deacetylation of transcribed chromatin and represses cryptic promoters within genes. Although Set2 is the only methyltransferase (KMTase) for H3K36 in yeast, it is not known if Set2 is regulated or whether the different methylation states at H3K36 are functionally distinct. Here we show that the N-terminal 261 residues of Set2 (Set21-261), containing the SET KMTase domain, are sufficient for H3K36me2, histone deacetylation, and repression of cryptic promoters at STE11. Set2-catalyzed H3K36me2 does not require either Ctk1-dependent phosphorylation of RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) or the presence of the phospho-C-terminal domain (CTD) interaction (SRI) domain of Set2. This finding is consistent with a known correlation between H3K36me2 and whether a gene is on or off, but not the level of activity of a gene. By contrast, H3K36me3 requires Spt6, proline 38 on histone H3 (H3P38), the CTD of RNAPII, Ctk1, and the C-terminal SRI domain of Set2. We suggest that the C-terminal region of Set2, in conjunction with the phosphorylated CTD of RNAPII, influences the KMTase activity to promote H3K36me3 during transcription elongation.
The continuing identification of new histone post-translational modifications and ongoing discovery of their roles in nuclear processes has increased the demand for quick, efficient, and precise methods for their analysis. In the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a variety of methods exist for the characterization of histone modifications on a global scale. However, a wide gap in preparation time and histone abundance exists between the most widely used extraction methods, a simple whole cell extraction (WCE) and an intensive histone extraction. In this work we evaluate various published WCE buffers for their relative effectiveness in the detection of histone modifications by western blot analysis. We also present a precise, yet time-efficient method for the detection of subtle changes in histone modification levels. Lastly, we present a protocol for the rapid small-scale purification of nuclei that improves the performance of antibodies that do not work efficiently in WCE, and aids in the detection of histone modifications that are low in abundance. These new methods are ideal for the analysis of histone modifications and could be applied to the analysis and improved detection of other nuclear proteins.
Histones; Nuclear proteins; Chromatin; Histone Modification; Methylation; Nuclei extraction
In yeast and other eukaryotes, the histone methyltransferase Set1 mediates methylation of lysine 4 on histone H3 (H3K4me). This modification marks the 5′ end of transcribed genes in a 5′-to-3′ tri- to di- to monomethyl gradient and promotes association of chromatin-remodeling and histone-modifying enzymes. Here we show that Ctk1, the serine 2 C-terminal domain (CTD) kinase for RNA polymerase II (RNAP II), regulates H3K4 methylation. We found that CTK1 deletion nearly abolished H3K4 monomethylation yet caused a significant increase in H3K4 di- and trimethylation. Both in individual genes and genome-wide, loss of CTK1 disrupted the H3K4 methylation patterns normally observed. H3K4me2 and H3K4me3 spread 3′ into the bodies of genes, while H3K4 monomethylation was diminished. These effects were dependent on the catalytic activity of Ctk1 but are independent of Set2-mediated H3K36 methylation. Furthermore, these effects are not due to spurious transcription initiation in the bodies of genes, to changes in RNAP II occupancy, to changes in serine 5 CTD phosphorylation patterns, or to “transcriptional stress.” These data show that Ctk1 acts to restrict the spread of H3K4 methylation through a mechanism that is independent of a general transcription defect. The evidence presented suggests that Ctk1 controls the maintenance of suppressive chromatin in the coding regions of genes by both promoting H3K36 methylation, which leads to histone deacetylation, and preventing the 3′ spread of H3K4 trimethylation, a mark associated with transcriptional initiation.
Set2p, which mediates histone H3 lysine 36 dimethylation (H3K36me2) in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, has been shown to associate with RNA polymerase II (RNAP II) at individual loci. Here, chromatin immunoprecipitation-microarray experiments normalized to general nucleosome occupancy reveal that nucleosomes within open reading frames (ORFs) and downstream noncoding chromatin were highly dimethylated at H3K36 and that Set2p activity begins at a stereotypic distance from the initiation of transcription genome-wide. H3K36me2 is scarce in regions upstream of divergently transcribed genes, telomeres, silenced mating loci, and regions transcribed by RNA polymerase III, providing evidence that the enzymatic activity of Set2p is restricted to its association with RNAP II. The presence of H3K36me2 within ORFs correlated with the “on” or “off” state of transcription, but the degree of H3K36 dimethylation within ORFs did not correlate with transcription frequency. This provides evidence that H3K36me2 is established during the initial instances of gene transcription, with subsequent transcription having at most a maintenance role. Accordingly, newly activated genes acquire H3K36me2 in a manner that does not correlate with gene transcript levels. Finally, nucleosomes dimethylated at H3K36 appear to be refractory to loss from highly transcribed chromatin. Thus, H3K36me2, which is highly conserved throughout eukaryotic evolution, provides a stable molecular mechanism for establishing chromatin context throughout the genome by distinguishing potential regulatory regions from transcribed chromatin.
The SET domain is an evolutionarily conserved domain found predominantly in histone methyltransferases (HMTs). The Neurospora crassa genome includes nine SET domain genes (set-1 through set-9) in addition to dim-5, which encodes a histone H3 lysine 9 HMT required for DNA methylation. We demonstrate that Neurospora set-2 encodes a histone H3 lysine 36 (K36) methyltransferase and that it is essential for normal growth and development. We used repeat induced point mutation to make a set-2 mutant (set-2RIP1) with multiple nonsense mutations. Western analyses revealed that the mutant lacks SET-2 protein and K36 methylation. An amino-terminal fragment that includes the AWS, SET, and post-SET domains of SET-2 proved sufficient for K36 HMT activity in vitro. Nucleosomes were better substrates than free histones. The set-2RIP1 mutant grows slowly, conidiates poorly, and is female sterile. Introducing the wild-type gene into the mutant complemented the defects, confirming that they resulted from loss of set-2 function. We replaced the wild-type histone H3 gene (hH3) with an allele producing a Lys to Leu substitution at position 36 and found that this hH3K36L mutant phenocopied the set-2RIP1 mutant, confirming that the observed defects in growth and development result from inability to methylate K36 of H3. Finally, we used chromatin immunoprecipitation to demonstrate that actively transcribed genes in Neurospora crassa are enriched for H3 methylated at lysines 4 and 36. Taken together, our results suggest that methylation of K36 in Neurospora crassa is essential for normal growth and development.
Set2 methylation of histone H3 at lysine 36 (K36) has recently been shown to be associated with RNA polymerase II (Pol II) elongation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. However, whether this modification is conserved and associated with transcription elongation in other organisms is not known. Here we report the identification and characterization of the Set2 ortholog responsible for K36 methylation in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. We find that similar to the budding yeast enzyme, S. pombe Set2 is also a robust nucleosome-selective H3 methyltransferase that is specific for K36. Deletion of the S. pombe set2+ gene results in complete abolishment of K36 methylation as well as a slow-growth phenotype on plates containing synthetic medium. These results indicate that Set2 is the sole enzyme responsible for this modification in fission yeast and is important for cell growth under stressed conditions. Using the chromatin immunoprecipitation assay, we demonstrate that K36 methylation in S. pombe is associated with the transcribed regions of Pol II-regulated genes and is devoid in regions that are not transcribed by Pol II. Consistent with a role for Set2 in transcription elongation, we find that S. pombe Set2 associates with the hyperphosphorylated form of Pol II and can fully rescue K36 methylation and Pol II interaction in budding yeast cells deleted for Set2. These results, along with our finding that K36 methylation is highly conserved among eukaryotes, imply a conserved role for this modification in the transcription elongation process.
Histone methylation and the enzymes that mediate it are important regulators of chromatin structure and gene transcription. In particular, the histone H3 lysine 36 (K36) methyltransferase Set2 has recently been shown to associate with the phosphorylated C-terminal domain (CTD) of RNA polymerase II (RNAPII), implying that this enzyme has an important role in the transcription elongation process. Here we show that a novel domain in the C terminus of Set2 is responsible for interaction between Set2 and RNAPII. This domain, termed the Set2 Rpb1 interacting (SRI) domain, is encompassed by amino acid residues 619 to 718 in Set2 and is found to occur in a number of putative Set2 homologs from Schizosaccharomyces pombe to humans. Unexpectedly, BIACORE analysis reveals that the SRI domain binds specifically, and with high affinity, to CTD repeats that are doubly modified (serine 2 and serine 5 phosphorylated), indicating that Set2 association across the body of genes requires a specific pattern of phosphorylated RNAPII. Deletion of the SRI domain not only abolishes Set2-RNAPII interaction but also abolishes K36 methylation in vivo, indicating that this interaction is required for establishing K36 methylation on chromatin. Using 6-azauracil (6AU) as an indicator of transcription elongation defects, we found that deletion of the SRI domain conferred a strong resistance to this compound, which was identical to that observed with set2 deletion mutants. Furthermore, yeast strains carrying set2 alleles that are catalytically inactive or yeast strains bearing point mutations at K36 were also found to be resistant to 6AU. These data suggest that it is the methylation by Set2 that affects transcription elongation. In agreement with this, we have determined that deletion of SET2, its SRI domain, or amino acid substitutions at K36 result in an alteration of RNAPII occupancy levels over transcribing genes. Taken together, these data indicate K36 methylation, established by the SRI domain-mediated association of Set2 with RNAPII, plays an important role in the transcription elongation process.
Rad6-mediated ubiquitylation of histone H2B at lysine 123 has been linked to transcriptional activation and the regulation of lysine methylation on histone H3. However, how Rad6 and H2B ubiquitylation contribute to the transcription and histone methylation processes is poorly understood. Here, we show that the Paf1 transcription elongation complex and the E3 ligase for Rad6, Bre1, mediate an association of Rad6 with the hyperphosphorylated (elongating) form of RNA polymerase II (Pol II). This association appears to be necessary for the transcriptional activities of Rad6, as deletion of various Paf1 complex members or Bre1 abolishes H2B ubiquitylation (ubH2B) and reduces the recruitment of Rad6 to the promoters and transcribed regions of active genes. Using the inducible GAL1 gene as a model, we find that the recruitment of Rad6 upon activation occurs rapidly and transiently across the gene and coincides precisely with the appearance of Pol II. Significantly, during GAL1 activation in an rtf1 deletion mutant, Rad6 accumulates at the promoter but is absent from the transcribed region. This fact suggests that Rad6 is recruited to promoters independently of the Paf1 complex but then requires this complex for entrance into the coding region of genes in a Pol II-associated manner. In support of a role for Rad6-dependent H2B ubiquitylation in transcription elongation, we find that ubH2B levels are dramatically reduced in strains bearing mutations of the Pol II C-terminal domain (CTD) and abolished by inactivation of Kin28, the serine 5 CTD kinase that promotes the transition from initiation to elongation. Furthermore, synthetic genetic array analysis reveals that the Rad6 complex interacts genetically with a number of known or suspected transcription elongation factors. Finally, we show that Saccharomyces cerevisiae mutants bearing defects in the pathway to H2B ubiquitylation display transcription elongation defects as assayed by 6-azauracil sensitivity. Collectively, our results indicate a role for Rad6 and H2B ubiquitylation during the elongation cycle of transcription and suggest a mechanism by which H3 methylation may be regulated.
Previous studies have established an important role of histone acetylation in transcriptional control by nuclear hormone receptors. With chromatin immunoprecipitation assays, we have now investigated whether histone methylation and phosphorylation are also involved in transcriptional regulation by thyroid hormone receptor (TR). We found that repression by unliganded TR is associated with a substantial increase in methylation of H3 lysine 9 (H3-K9) and a decrease in methylation of H3 lysine 4 (H3-K4), methylation of H3 arginine 17 (H3-R17), and a dual modification of phosphorylation of H3 serine 10 and acetylation of lysine 14 (pS10/acK14). On the other hand, transcriptional activation by liganded TR is coupled with a substantial decrease in both H3-K4 and H3-K9 methylation and a robust increase in H3-R17 methylation and the dual modification of pS10/acK14. Trichostatin A treatment results in not only histone hyperacetylation but also an increase in methylation of H3-K4, increase in dual modification of pS10/acK14, and reduction in methylation of H3-K9, revealing an extensive interplay between histone acetylation, methylation, and phosphorylation. In an effort to understand the underlying mechanism for an increase in H3-K9 methylation during repression by unliganded TR, we demonstrated that TR interacts in vitro with an H3-K9-specific histone methyltransferase (HMT), SUV39H1. Functional analysis indicates that SUV39H1 can facilitate repression by unliganded TR and in so doing requires its HMT activity. Together, our data uncover a novel role of H3-K9 methylation in repression by unliganded TR and provide strong evidence for the involvement of multiple distinct histone covalent modifications (acetylation, methylation, and phosphorylation) in transcriptional control by nuclear hormone receptors.
Recent studies of histone methylation have yielded fundamental new insights pertaining to the role of this modification in gene activation as well as in gene silencing. While a number of methylation sites are known to occur on histones, only limited information exists regarding the relevant enzymes that mediate these methylation events. We thus sought to identify native histone methyltransferase (HMT) activities from Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Here, we describe the biochemical purification and characterization of Set2, a novel HMT that is site-specific for lysine 36 (Lys36) of the H3 tail. Using an antiserum directed against Lys36 methylation in H3, we show that Set2, via its SET domain, is responsible for methylation at this site in vivo. Tethering of Set2 to a heterologous promoter reveals that Set2 represses transcription, and part of this repression is mediated through the HMT activity of the SET domain. These results suggest that Set2 and methylation at H3 Lys36 play a role in the repression of gene transcription.
In cells lacking the histone methyltransferase Set2, initiation of RNA polymerase II transcription occurs inappropriately within the protein-coding regions of genes, rather than being restricted to the proximal promoter. It was previously reported that this “cryptic” transcription occurs preferentially in long genes, and in genes that are infrequently transcribed. Here, we mapped the transcripts produced in an S. cerevisiae strain lacking Set2, and applied rigorous statistical methods to identify sites of cryptic transcription at high resolution. We find that suppression of cryptic transcription occurs independent of gene length or transcriptional frequency. Our conclusions differ with those reported previously because we obtained a higher-resolution dataset, we accounted for the fact that gene length and transcriptional frequency are not independent variables, and we accounted for several ascertainment biases that make cryptic transcription easier to detect in long, infrequently transcribed genes. These new results and conclusions have implications for many commonly used genomic analysis approaches, and for the evolution of high-fidelity RNA polymerase II transcriptional initiation in eukaryotes.