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Nucleic Acids Res. 2013 May;41(9):4888-900. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkt213. Epub 2013 Apr 4.

Impaired in vivo binding of MeCP2 to chromatin in the absence of its DNA methyl-binding domain.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 2Y2, Canada.


MeCP2 is a methyl-CpG-binding protein that is a main component of brain chromatin in vertebrates. In vitro studies have determined that in addition to its specific methyl-CpG-binding domain (MBD) MeCP2 also has several chromatin association domains. However, the specific interactions of MeCP2 with methylated or non-methylated chromatin regions and the structural characteristics of the resulting DNA associations in vivo remain poorly understood. We analysed the role of the MBD in MeCP2-chromatin associations in vivo using an MeCP2 mutant Rett syndrome mouse model (Mecp2(tm1.1Jae)) in which exon 3 deletion results in an N-terminal truncation of the protein, including most of the MBD. Our results show that in mutant mice, the truncated form of MeCP2 (ΔMeCP2) is expressed in different regions of the brain and liver, albeit at 50% of its wild-type (wt) counterpart. In contrast to the punctate nuclear distribution characteristic of wt MeCP2, ΔMeCP2 exhibits both diffuse nuclear localization and a substantial retention in the cytoplasm, suggesting a dysfunction of nuclear transport. In mutant brain tissue, neuronal nuclei are smaller, and ΔMeCP2 chromatin is digested faster by nucleases, producing a characteristic nuclease-resistant dinucleosome. Although a fraction of ΔMeCP2 is found associated with nucleosomes, its interaction with chromatin is transient and weak. Thus, our results unequivocally demonstrate that in vivo the MBD of MeCP2 together with its adjacent region in the N-terminal domain are critical for the proper interaction of the protein with chromatin, which cannot be replaced by any other of its protein domains.

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