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J Mol Biol. 2003 Jan 31;325(5):873-87.

Nucleosome positioning signals in the DNA sequence of the human and mouse H19 imprinting control regions.

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  • 1Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Edinburgh, Darwin Building, King's Buildings, West Mains Road, Scotland EH9 3JR, Edinburgh, UK.


We have investigated the sequences of the mouse and human H19 imprinting control regions (ICRs) to see whether they contain nucleosome positioning information pertinent to their function as a methylation-regulated chromatin boundary. Positioning signals were identified by an in vitro approach that employs reconstituted chromatin to comprehensively describe the contribution of the DNA to the most basic, underlying level of chromatin structure. Signals in the DNA sequence of both ICRs directed nucleosomes to flank and encompass the short conserved sequences that constitute the binding sites for the zinc finger protein CTCF, an essential mediator of insulator activity. The repeat structure of the human ICR presented a conserved array of strong positioning signals that would preferentially flank these CTCF binding sites with positioned nucleosomes, a chromatin structure that would tend to maintain their accessibility. Conversely, all four CTCF binding sites in the mouse sequence were located close to the centre of positioning signals that were stronger than those in their flanks; these binding sites might therefore be expected to be more readily incorporated into positioned nucleosomes. We found that CpG methylation did not effect widespread repositioning of nucleosomes on either ICR, indicating that allelic methylation patterns were unlikely to establish allele-specific chromatin structures for H19 by operating directly upon the underlying DNA-histone interactions; instead, epigenetic modulation of ICR chromatin structure is likely to be mediated principally at higher levels of control. DNA methylation did, however, both promote and inhibit nucleosome positioning at several sites in both ICRs and substantially negated one of the strongest nucleosome positioning signals in the human sequence, observations that underline the fact that this epigenetic modification can, nevertheless, directly and decisively modulate core histone-DNA interactions within the nucleosome.

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