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Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2003;274:171-201.

Changing the DNA landscape: putting a SPN on chromatin.

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  • 1University of Utah, Biochemistry, 20 N 1900 E RM 211, Salt Lake City, UT 84132-3201, USA.


In eukaryotic cells, transcription and replication each occur on DNA templates that are incorporated into nucleosomes. Formation of chromatin generally limits accessibility of specific DNA sequences and inhibits progression of polymerases as they copy information from the DNA. The processes that select sites for initiating either transcription or replication are therefore strongly influenced by factors that modulate the properties of chromatin proteins. Further, in order to elongate their products, both DNA and RNA polymerases must be able to overcome the inhibition presented by chromatin (Lipford and Bell 2001; Workman and Kingston 1998). One way to adjust the properties of chromatin proteins is to covalently modify them by adding or removing chemical moieties. Both histone and non-histone chromatin proteins are altered by acetylation, methylation, and other changes, and the 'nucleosome modifying' complexes that perform these reactions are important components of pathways of transcriptional regulation (Cote 2002; Orphanides and Reinberg 2000; Roth et al. 2001; Strahl and Allis 2000; Workman and Kingston 1998). Another way to alter the effects of nucleosomes is to change the position of the histone octamers relative to specific DNA sequences (Orphanides and Reinberg 2000; Verrijzer 2002; Wang 2002; Workman and Kingston 1998). Since the ability of a sequence to be bound by specific proteins can vary significantly whether the sequence is in the linkers between nucleosomes or at various positions within a nucleosome, 'nucleosome remodeling' complexes that rearrange nucleosome positioning are also important regulators of transcription. Since the DNA replication machinery has to encounter many of the same challenges posed by chromatin, it seems likely that modifying and remodeling complexes also act during duplication of the genome, but most of the current information on these factors relates to regulation of transcription. This chapter describes the factor known variously as FACT in humans, where it promotes elongation of RNA polymerase II on nucleosomal templates in vitro (Orphanides et al. 1998, 1999), DUF in frogs, where it is needed for DNA replication in oocyte extracts (Okuhara et al. 1999), and CP or SPN in yeast, where it is linked in vivo to both transcription and replication (Brewster et al. 2001; Formosa et al. 2001). Like the nucleosome modifying and remodeling complexes, it is broadly conserved among eukaryotes, affects a wide range of processes that utilize chromatin, and directly alters the properties of nucleosomes. However, it does not have nucleosome modifying or standard ATP-dependent remodeling activity, and therefore represents a third class of chromatin modulating factors. It is also presently unique in the extensive connections it displays with both transcription and replication: FACT/DUF/CP/SPN appears to modify nucleosomes in a way that is directly important for the efficient functioning of both RNA polymerases and DNA polymerases. While less is known about the mechanisms it uses to promote its functions than for other factors that affect chromatin, it is clearly an essential part of the complex mixture of activities that modulate access to DNA within chromatin. Physical and genetic interactions suggest that FACT/DUF/CP/SPN affects multiple pathways within replication and transcription as a member of several distinct complexes. Some of the interactions are easy to assimilate into models for replication or transcription, such as direct binding to DNA polymerase alpha (Wittmeyer and Formosa 1997; Wittmeyer et al. 1999), association with nucleosome modifying complexes (John et al. 2000), and interaction with factors that participate in elongation of RNA Polymerase II (Gavin et al. 2002; Squazzo et al. 2002). Others are more surprising such as an association with the 19S complex that regulates the function of the 20S proteasome (Ferdous et al. 2001; Xu et al. 1995), and the indication that FACT/DUF/CP/SPN can act as a specificity factor for casein kinase II (Keller et al. 2001). This chapter reviews the varied approaches that have each revealed different aspects of the function of FACT/DUF/CP/SPN, and presents a picture of a factor that can both alter nucleosomes and orchestrate the assembly or activity of a broad range of complexes that act upon chromatin.

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