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Chromosome Res. 2006;14(1):39-51.

Chromatin architectural proteins.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, 80523-1870, USA.


The accessibility of eukaryotic DNA is dependent upon the hierarchical level of chromatin organization. These include (1) intra-nucleosome interactions, (2) inter-nucleosome interactions and (3) the influence of non-histone chromatin architectural proteins. There appears to be interplay between all these levels, in that one level can override another or that two or more can act in concert. In the first level, the stability of the nucleosome itself is dependent on the number and type of contacts between the core histones and the surrounding DNA, as well as protein-protein interactions within the core histone octamer. Core histone variants, post-translational modifications of the histones, and linker histones binding to the DNA all influence the organization and stability of the nucleosome. When nucleosomes are placed end-to-end in linear chromatin arrays, the second level of organization is revealed. The amino terminal tails of the histone proteins make contacts with adjacent and distant nucleosomes, both within the fiber and between different fibers. The third level of organization is imposed upon these 'intrinsic' constraints, and is due to the influence of chromatin binding proteins that alter the architecture of the underlying fiber. These chromatin architectural proteins can, in some cases, bypass intrinsic constraints and impart their own topological affects, resulting in truly unique, supra-molecular assemblages that undoubtedly influence the accessibility of the underlying DNA. In this review we will provide a brief summary of what has been learned about the intrinsic dynamics of chromatin fibers, and survey the biology and architectural affects of the handful of chromatin architectural proteins that have been identified and characterized. These proteins are likely only a small subset of the architectural proteins encoded within the eukaryotic genome. We hope that an increased understanding and appreciation of the contribution of these proteins to genome accessibility will hasten the identification and characterization of more of these important regulatory factors.

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