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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Jan 25;108(4):1296-301. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018308108. Epub 2011 Jan 10.

Splitting of H3-H4 tetramers at transcriptionally active genes undergoing dynamic histone exchange.

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  • 1Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Nucleosome deposition occurs on newly synthesized DNA during DNA replication and on transcriptionally active genes via nucleosome-remodeling complexes recruited by activator proteins and elongating RNA polymerase II. It has been long believed that histone deposition involves stable H3-H4 tetramers, such that newly deposited nucleosomes do not contain H3 and H4 molecules with their associated histone modifications from preexisting nucleosomes. However, biochemical analyses and recent experiments in mammalian cells have raised the idea that preexisting H3-H4 tetramers might split into dimers, resulting in mixed nucleosomes composed of "old" and "new" histones. It is unknown to what extent different genomic loci might utilize such a mechanism and under which circumstances. Here, we address whether tetramer splitting occurs in a locus-specific manner by using sequential chromatin immunoprecipitation of mononucleosomes from yeast cells containing two differentially tagged versions of H3 that are expressed "old" and "new" histones. At many genomic loci, we observe little or no nucleosomal cooccupancy of old and new H3, indicating that tetramer splitting is generally infrequent. However, cooccupancy is detected at highly active genes, which have a high rate of histone exchange. Thus, DNA replication largely results in nucleosomes bearing exclusively old or new H3-H4, thereby precluding the acquisition of new histone modifications based on preexisting modifications within the same nucleosome. In contrast, tetramer splitting, dimer exchange, and nucleosomes with mixed H3-H4 tetramers occur at highly active genes, presumably linked to rapid histone exchange associated with robust transcription.

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