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J Biol Chem. 2006 Sep 1;281(35):25522-31. Epub 2006 Jun 27.

The histone variant macro-H2A preferentially forms "hybrid nucleosomes".

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523-1870, USA.


The histone domain of macro-H2A, which constitutes the N-terminal one third of this histone variant, is only 64% identical to major H2A. We have shown previously that the main structural differences in a nucleosome in which both H2A moieties have been replaced by macro-H2A reside in the only point of contact between the two histone dimers, the L1-L1 interface of macro-H2A. Here we show that the L1 loop of macro-H2A is responsible for the increased salt-dependent stability of the histone octamer, with implications for the nucleosome assembly pathway. It is unknown whether only one or both of the H2A-H2B dimers within a nucleosome are replaced with H2A variant containing nucleosomes in vivo. We demonstrate that macro-H2A preferentially forms hybrid nucleosomes containing one chain each of major H2A and macro-HA in vitro. The 2.9-A crystal structure of such a hybrid nucleosome shows significant structural differences in the L1-L1 interface when comparing with homotypic major H2A- and macro-H2A-containing nucleosomes. Both homotypic and hybrid macro-nucleosome core particles (NCPs) are resistant to chaperone-assisted H2A-H2B dimer exchange. Together, our findings suggest that the histone domain of macro-H2A modifies the dynamic properties of the nucleosome. We propose that the possibility of forming hybrid macro-NCP adds yet another level of complexity to variant nucleosome structure and function.

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