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J Cell Sci. 2003 Oct 15;116(Pt 20):4067-75.

The eukaryotic genome: a system regulated at different hierarchical levels.

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  • 1Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences, BioCentrum Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, Kruislaan 318,1098SM Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Eukaryotic gene expression can be viewed within a conceptual framework in which regulatory mechanisms are integrated at three hierarchical levels. The first is the sequence level, i.e. the linear organization of transcription units and regulatory sequences. Here, developmentally co-regulated genes seem to be organized in clusters in the genome, which constitute individual functional units. The second is the chromatin level, which allows switching between different functional states. Switching between a state that suppresses transcription and one that is permissive for gene activity probably occurs at the level of the gene cluster, involving changes in chromatin structure that are controlled by the interplay between histone modification, DNA methylation, and a variety of repressive and activating mechanisms. This regulatory level is combined with control mechanisms that switch individual genes in the cluster on and off, depending on the properties of the promoter. The third level is the nuclear level, which includes the dynamic 3D spatial organization of the genome inside the cell nucleus. The nucleus is structurally and functionally compartmentalized and epigenetic regulation of gene expression may involve repositioning of loci in the nucleus through changes in large-scale chromatin structure.

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