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Biochem Cell Biol. 2002;80(3):311-9.

The elusive structural role of ubiquitinated histones.

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Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, University of Victoria, BC, Canada.


It is increasingly apparent that histone posttranslational modifications are important in chromatin structure and dynamics. However, histone ubiquitination has received little attention. Histones H1, H3, H2A, and H2B can be ubiquitinated in vivo, but the most prevalent are uH2A and uH2B. The size of this modification suggests some sort of structural impact. Physiological observations suggest that ubiquitinated histones may have multiple functions and structural effects. Ubiquitinated histones have been correlated with transcriptionally active DNA, implying that it may prevent chromatin folding or help maintain an open conformation. Also, in some organisms during spermiogenesis, a process involving extensive chromatin remodeling, uH2A levels increase just prior to histone replacement by protamines. Determination of chromatin's structural changes resulting from histone ubiquitination is therefore important. Recent work using reconstituted nucleosomes and chromatin fibers containing uH2A indicate that in the absence of linker histones, ubiquitination has little structural impact. DNase I digests and analytical ultracentrifugation of reconstituted ubiquitinated nucleosomes show no structural differences. Solubility assays using reconstituted chromatin fibers in the presence of divalent ions demonstrate that uH2A fibers are slightly more prone to aggregation than controls, and analytical ultracentrifugation results with different MgCl2 and NaCl concentrations determined that chromatin folding is not affected by this modification. Additional work to assess possible synergistic affects with histone acetylation also precludes any structural implications. Protamine displacement experiments concluded that the presence of uH2A does not significantly affect the ability of the protamines to displace histones. In addition, uH2A does not interfere with histone H1 binding to the nucleosome. While work with uH2B remains insufficient to come to any definitive conclusions about its structural impact, current work with uH-2A indicates that, contrary to predictions, this histone modification does not affect either nucleosome or chromatin structure. Consequently, the search for a structural role for ubiquitinated histones continues and their effect on and importance in chromatin dynamics remains elusive.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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