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J Immunol. 2011 Oct 15;187(8):4236-44. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1100688. Epub 2011 Sep 12.

Cohesin regulates MHC class II genes through interactions with MHC class II insulators.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


Cohesin is a multiprotein, ringed complex that is most well-known for its role in stabilizing the association of sister chromatids between S phase and M. More recently, cohesin was found to be associated with transcriptional insulators, elements that are associated with the organization of chromatin into regulatory domains. The human MHC class II (MHC-II) locus contains 10 intergenic elements, termed MHC-II insulators, which bind the transcriptional insulator protein CCCTC-binding factor. MHC-II insulators interact with each other, forming a base architecture of discrete loops and potential regulatory domains. When MHC-II genes are expressed, their proximal promoter regulatory regions reorganize to the foci established by the interacting MHC-II insulators. MHC-II insulators also bind cohesin, but the functional role of cohesin in regulating this system is not known. In this article, we show that the binding of cohesin to MHC-II insulators occurred irrespective of MHC-II expression but was required for optimal expression of the HLA-DR and HLA-DQ genes. In a DNA-dependent manner, cohesin subunits interacted with CCCTC-binding factor and the MHC-II-specific transcription factors regulatory factor X and CIITA. Intriguingly, cohesin subunits were important for DNA looping interactions between the HLA-DRA promoter region and a 5' MHC-II insulator but were not required for interactions between the MHC-II insulators themselves. This latter observation introduces cohesin as a regulator of MHC-II expression by initiating or stabilizing MHC-II promoter regulatory element interactions with the MHC-II insulator elements, events that are required for maximal MHC-II transcription.

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