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EMBO J. 1990 Dec;9(12):3997-4006.

Chromatin structure of transcriptionally competent and repressed genes.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, UK.


We have compared transcriptionally competent and repressed genes with respect to their linker histone content and their ability to fold into higher-order structures. Histones were cross-linked covalently to DNA in chicken erythrocyte and oviduct nuclei by UV irradiation, and the DNA that was immunoprecipitated with anti-H1 and (for erythrocytes) anti-H5 antibodies was analysed for particular DNA sequences. None of the sequences investigated was free of H1 (H5). However, in mature erythrocytes the tissue-specific adult beta-globin gene (beta A) appears to be partially depleted of H5, and both the beta-globin gene and the H5 gene (also tissue-specific), as well as the 'housekeeping' beta-actin gene, appear to be partially depleted of H1 relative to inactive genes; in oviduct slight H1-depletion is detected on the ovalbumin gene relative to genes that are inactive in this tissue and the actin gene. Transcriptionally competent erythrocyte chromatin fragments, in contrast to inactive fragments, are unable to self-associate into 'pseudo-higher-order structures'. This is likely to be a consequence of the partial depletion of H5 and/or H1 in active chromatin, resulting in the breakdown of (probably cooperative) interactions between H5 and/or H1 molecules that otherwise mediate the assembly of pseudo-higher-order structures in vitro and a stable 30 nm chromatin filament in vivo.

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