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Stem Cell Rev Rep. 2009 Sep;5(3):224-30. doi: 10.1007/s12015-009-9078-9. Epub 2009 Jun 24.

The high mobility group protein HMGA2: a co-regulator of chromatin structure and pluripotency in stem cells?

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Institute for Neurophysiology, University of Cologne, Robert Koch Str. 39, 50931, Cologne, Germany.


The small, chromatin-associated HMGA proteins contain three separate DNA binding domains, so-called AT hooks, which bind preferentially to short AT-rich sequences. These proteins are abundant in pluripotent embryonic stem (ES) cells and most malignant human tumors, but are not detectable in normal somatic cells. They act both as activator and repressor of gene expression, and most likely facilitate DNA architectural changes during formation of specialized nucleoprotein structures at selected promoter regions. For example, HMGA2 is involved in transcriptional activation of certain cell proliferation genes, which likely contributes to its well-established oncogenic potential during tumor formation. However, surprisingly little is known about how HMGA proteins bind DNA packaged in chromatin and how this affects the chromatin structure at a larger scale. Experimental evidence suggests that HMGA2 competes with binding of histone H1 in the chromatin fiber. This could substantially alter chromatin domain structures in ES cells and contribute to the activation of certain transcription networks. HMGA2 also seems capable of recruiting enzymes directly involved in histone modifications to trigger gene expression. Furthermore, it was shown that multiple HMGA2 molecules bind stably to a single nucleosome core particle whose structure is known. How these features of HMGA2 impinge on chromatin organization inside a living cell is unknown. In this commentary, we propose that HMGA2, through the action of three independent DNA binding domains, substantially contributes to the plasticity of ES cell chromatin and is involved in the maintenance of a un-differentiated cell state.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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