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Genome Res. 2011 Apr;21(4):578-89. doi: 10.1101/gr.113167.110. Epub 2011 Mar 7.

Genes for embryo development are packaged in blocks of multivalent chromatin in zebrafish sperm.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Oncological Sciences, Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA.


In mature human sperm, genes of importance for embryo development (i.e., transcription factors) lack DNA methylation and bear nucleosomes with distinctive histone modifications, suggesting the specialized packaging of these developmental genes in the germline. Here, we explored the tractable zebrafish model and found conceptual conservation as well as several new features. Biochemical and mass spectrometric approaches reveal the zebrafish sperm genome packaged in nucleosomes and histone variants (and not protamine), and we find linker histones high and H4K16ac absent, key factors that may contribute to genome condensation. We examined several activating (H3K4me2/3, H3K14ac, H2AFV) and repressing (H3K27me3, H3K36me3, H3K9me3, hypoacetylation) modifications/compositions genome-wide and find developmental genes packaged in large blocks of chromatin with coincident activating and repressing marks and DNA hypomethylation, revealing complex "multivalent" chromatin. Notably, genes that acquire DNA methylation in the soma (muscle) are enriched in transcription factors for alternative cell fates. Remarkably, whereas H3K36me3 is located in the 3' coding region of heavily transcribed genes in somatic cells, H3K36me3 is present in the promoters of "silent" developmental regulators in sperm, suggesting different rules for H3K36me3 in the germline and soma. We also reveal the chromatin patterns of transposons, rDNA, and tDNAs. Finally, high levels of H3K4me3 and H3K14ac in sperm are correlated with genes activated in embryos prior to the mid-blastula transition (MBT), whereas multivalent genes are correlated with activation at or after MBT. Taken together, gene sets with particular functions in the embryo are packaged by distinctive types of complex and often atypical chromatin in sperm.

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