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J Biol Chem. 2009 Jun 19;284(25):16716-22. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.011288. Epub 2009 Apr 24.

Determinants of histone H4 N-terminal domain function during nucleosomal array oligomerization: roles of amino acid sequence, domain length, and charge density.

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


Mg(2+)-dependent oligomerization of nucleosomal arrays is correlated with higher order folding transitions that stabilize chromosome structure beyond the 30-nm diameter fiber. In the present studies, we have employed a novel mutagenesis-based approach to identify the macromolecular determinants that control H4 N-terminal domain (NTD) function during oligomerization. Core histones were engineered in which 1) the H2A, H2B, and H3 NTDs were swapped onto the H4 histone fold; 2) the length of the H4 NTD and the H2A NTD on the H4 histone fold, were increased; 3) the charge density of the NTDs on the H4 histone fold was increased or decreased; and 4) the H4 NTD was placed on the H2B histone fold. Model nucleosomal arrays were assembled from wild type and mutant core histone octamers, and Mg(2+)-dependent oligomerization was characterized. The results demonstrated that the H2B and H3 NTDs could replace the H4 NTD, as could the H2A NTD if it was duplicated to the length of the native H4 NTD. Arrays oligomerized at lower salt concentrations as the length of the NTD on the H4 histone fold was increased. Mutations that decreased the NTD charge density required more Mg(2+) to oligomerize, whereas mutants that increased the charge density required less salt. Finally, the H4 NTD functioned differently when attached to the H2B histone fold than the H4 histone fold. These studies have revealed new insights into the biochemical basis for H4 NTD effects on genome architecture as well as the protein chemistry that underlies the function of the intrinsically disordered H4 NTD.

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