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J Mol Biol. 2011 May 27;409(1):36-46. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2011.01.040. Epub 2011 Jan 25.

Operating on chromatin, a colorful language where context matters.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.

Abstract

Histones, the fundamental packaging elements of eukaryotic DNA, are highly decorated with a diverse set of post-translational modifications (PTMs) that are recognized to govern the structure and function of chromatin. Ten years ago, we put forward the histone code hypothesis, which provided a model to explain how single and/or combinatorial PTMs on histones regulate the diverse activities associated with chromatin (e.g., gene transcription). At that time, there was a limited understanding of both the number of PTMs that occur on histones and the proteins that place, remove, and interpret them. Since the conception of this hypothesis, the field has witnessed an unprecedented advance in our understanding of the enzymes that contribute to the establishment of histone PTMs, as well as the diverse effector proteins that bind them. While debate continues as to whether histone PTMs truly constitute a strict "code," it is becoming clear that PTMs on histone proteins function in elaborate combinations to regulate the many activities associated with chromatin. In this special issue, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landmark publication of the lac operon with a review that provides a current view of the histone code hypothesis, the lessons we have learned over the last decade, and the technologies that will drive our understanding of histone PTMs forward in the future.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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