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Phys Biol. 2012 Feb;9(1):013001. doi: 10.1088/1478-3975/9/1/013001. Epub 2012 Feb 7.

The condensed chromatin fiber: an allosteric chemo-mechanical machine for signal transduction and genome processing.

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CNRS UMR 7600, Physique Théorique de la Matière Condensée, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 4 place Jussieu, 75252 Paris Cedex 05, France.


Allostery is a key concept of molecular biology which refers to the control of an enzyme activity by an effector molecule binding the enzyme at another site rather than the active site (allos = other in Greek). We revisit here allostery in the context of chromatin and argue that allosteric principles underlie and explain the functional architecture required for spacetime coordination of gene expression at all scales from DNA to the whole chromosome. We further suggest that this functional architecture is provided by the chromatin fiber itself. The structural, mechanical and topological features of the chromatin fiber endow chromosomes with a tunable signal transduction from specific (or nonspecific) effectors to specific (or nonspecific) active sites. Mechanical constraints can travel along the fiber all the better since the fiber is more compact and regular, which speaks in favor of the actual existence of the (so-called 30 nm) chromatin fiber. Chromatin fiber allostery reconciles both the physical and biochemical approaches of chromatin. We illustrate this view with two supporting specific examples. Moreover, from a methodological point of view, we suggest that the notion of chromatin fiber allostery is particularly relevant for systemic approaches. Finally we discuss the evolutionary power of allostery in the context of chromatin and its relation to modularity.

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