RNA polymerase II (PolII) transcribes RNA within a chromatin context, with nucleosomes acting as barriers to transcription. Despite these barriers, transcription through chromatin in vivo is highly efficient, suggesting the existence of factors that overcome this obstacle. To increase the resolution obtained by standard chromatin immunoprecipitation, we developed a novel strategy using micrococcal nuclease digestion of cross-linked chromatin. We find that the chromatin remodeler Chd1 is recruited to promoter proximal nucleosomes of genes undergoing active transcription, where Chd1 is responsible for the vast majority of PolII-directed nucleosome turnover. The expression of a dominant negative form of Chd1 results in increased stalling of PolII past the entry site of the promoter proximal nucleosomes. We find that Chd1 evicts nucleosomes downstream of the promoter in order to overcome the nucleosomal barrier and enable PolII promoter escape, thus providing mechanistic insight into the role of Chd1 in transcription and pluripotency.
DNA is tightly packaged in a material called chromatin inside the cell nucleus. To produce proteins this DNA must first be transcribed to produce a molecule of messenger RNA, which is then translated to make a protein. To assist with this process cells ‘unpack’ certain regions of the DNA so that enzymes that catalyze the different steps in this process can have access to the DNA.
A protein called Chd1 is involved in the unpacking process in yeast, but its role in more complex animals is not clear. Now, Skene et al. have shown that this protein is needed to allow the enzyme that catalyzes the transcription of DNA—an enzyme called RNA polymerase II—to do its job. Chd1 acts to unpack the tightly packaged DNA from chromatin, thus allowing the transcription of the DNA to proceed. In the absence of Chd1 activity, RNA polymerase II stalls at the gene promoter—the region of DNA that starts the transcription of a particular gene. This work highlights how the packaging of DNA in the cell is highly dynamic and controls fundamental biological processes.
Skene et al. modified a well-known genetic technique called ChIP-seq. Previous ChIP-seq protocols typically provided a blurry, low-resolution map of where proteins bound to chromatin. Skene et al. used an enzyme to ‘chew back’ the DNA to reveal the exact ‘footprints’ of the Chd1 protein and the RNA polymerase II enzyme on the chromatin in mice. It will be possible to adapt this new protocol to map the positions of other proteins, which will help to improve our understanding of the ways in which chromatin regulates access to DNA.