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Biochemistry. 2002 Dec 17;41(50):14960-8.

The N-terminal tails of the H2A-H2B histones affect dimer structure and stability.

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  • 1School of Molecular Biosciences, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-4660, USA.


The histone proteins of the core nucleosome are highly basic and form heterodimers in a "handshake motif." The N-terminal tails of the histones extend beyond the canonical histone fold of the hand-shake motif and are the sites of posttranslational modifications, including lysine acetylations and serine phosphorylations, which influence chromatin structure and activity as well as alter the charge state of the tails. However, it is not well understood if these modifications are signals for recruitment of other cellular factors or if the removal of net positive charge from the N-terminal tail plays a role in the overall structure of chromatin. To elucidate the effects of the N-terminal tails on the structure and stability of histones, the highly charged N-terminal tails were truncated from the H2A and H2B histones. Three mutant dimers were studied: DeltaN-H2A/WT H2B; WT H2A/DeltaN-H2B, and DeltaN-H2A/DeltaN-H2B. The CD spectra, stabilities to urea-denaturation, and the salt-dependent stabilization of the three truncated dimers were compared with those of the wild-type dimer. The data support four conclusions regarding the effects of the N-terminal tails of H2A and H2B: (1) Removal of the N-terminal tails of H2A and H2B enhance the helical structure of the mutant heterodimers. (2) Relative to the full-length WT heterodimer, the DeltaN-H2A/WT H2B dimer is destabilized, while the WT H2A/DeltaN-H2B and DeltaN-H2A/DeltaN-H2B dimers are slightly stabilized. (3) The truncated dimers exhibit decreased m values, relative to the WT dimer, supporting the hypothesis that the N-terminal tails in the isolated dimer adopt a collapsed structure. (4) Electrostatic repulsion in the N-terminal tails decreases the stability of the H2A-H2B dimer.

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