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EMBO J. 2003 Oct 15;22(20):5540-50.

Formation of facultative heterochromatin in the absence of HP1.

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MRC Human Genetics Unit, Crewe Road, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, UK.


Facultative heterochromatin is a cytological manifestation of epigenetic mechanisms that regulate gene expression. Constitutive heterochromatin is marked by distinctive histone H3 methylation and the presence of HP1 proteins, but the chromatin modifications of facultative heterochromatin are less clear. We have examined histone modifications and HP1 in the facultative heterochromatin of nucleated erythrocytes and show that mouse and chicken erythrocytes have different mechanisms of heterochromatin formation. Mouse embryonic erythrocytes have abundant HP1, increased tri-methylation of H3 at K9 and loss of H3 tri-methylation at K27. In contrast, we show that HP1 proteins are lost during the differentiation of chicken erythrocytes, and that H3 tri-methylation at both K9 and K27 is reduced. This coincides with the appearance of the variant linker histone H5. HP1s are also absent from erythrocytes of Xenopus and zebrafish. Our data show that in the same cell lineage there are different mechanisms for forming facultative heterochromatin in vertebrates. To our knowledge, this is the first report of cell types that lack HP1s and that have gross changes in the levels of histone modifications.

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