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Microbiol Rev. 1992 Dec;56(4):543-60.

Silencers, silencing, and heritable transcriptional states.

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  • 1Division of Genetics, University of California, Berkeley 94720.


Three copies of the mating-type genes, which determine cell type, are found in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The copy at the MAT locus is transcriptionally active, whereas identical copies of the mating-type genes at the HML and HMR loci are transcriptionally silent. Hence, HML and HMR, also known as the silent mating-type loci, are subject to a position effect. Regulatory sequences flank the silent mating-type loci and mediate repression of HML and HMR. These regulatory sequences are called silencers for their ability to repress the transcription of nearby genes in a distance- and orientation-independent fashion. In addition, a number of proteins, including the four SIR proteins, histone H4, and an alpha-acetyltransferase, are required for the complete repression of HML and HMR. Because alterations in the amino-terminal domain of histone H4 result in the derepression of the silent mating-type loci, the mechanism of repression may involve the assembly of a specific chromatin structure. A number of additional clues permit insight into the nature of repression at HML and HMR. First, an S phase event is required for the establishment of repression. Second, at least one gene appears to play a role in the establishment mechanism yet is not essential for the stable propagation of repression through many rounds of cell division. Third, certain aspects of repression are linked to aspects of replication. The silent mating-type loci share many similarities with heterochromatin. Furthermore, regions of S. cerevisiae chromosomes, such as telomeres, which are known to be heterochromatic in other organisms, require a subset of SIR proteins for repression. Further analysis of the transcriptional repression at the silent mating-type loci may lend insight into heritable repression in other eukaryotes.

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