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J Mol Biol. 2000 Apr 28;298(2):211-23.

Effects of core histone tail domains on the equilibrium constants for dynamic DNA site accessibility in nucleosomes.

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Department of Biochemistry Molecular Biology, and Cell Biology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208-3500, USA.


The N and C-terminal tail domains of the core histones play important roles in gene regulation, but the mechanisms through which they act are not known. These tail domains are highly positively charged and are the sites of numerous post-translational modifications, including many sites for lysine acetylation. Nucleosomes in which these tail domains have been removed by trypsin remain otherwise intact, and are used by many laboratories as a model system for highly acetylated nucleosomes. Here, we test the hypothesis that one role of the tail domains is to directly regulate the accessibility of nucleosomal DNA to other DNA-binding proteins. Three assays are used: equilibrium binding by a site-specific, DNA-binding protein, and dynamic accessibility to restriction enzymes or to a non-specific exonuclease. The effects of removal of the tail domains as monitored by each of these assays can be understood within the framework of the site exposure model for the dynamic equilibrium accessibility of target sites located within the nucleosomal DNA. Removal of the tail domains leads to a 1.5 to 14-fold increase in position-dependent equilibrium constants for site exposure. The smallness of the effect weighs against models for gene activation in which histone acetylation is a mandatory initial event, required to facilitate subsequent access of regulatory proteins to nucleosomal DNA target sites. Alternative roles for histone acetylation in gene regulation are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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