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Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2012 Sep;95(6):1389-404. doi: 10.1007/s00253-012-4208-8. Epub 2012 Jul 20.

The chromatin code of fungal secondary metabolite gene clusters.

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Department of Applied Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Natural Resources and Life Science, University and Research Center-Campus Tulln, 3430 Tulln/Donau, Austria.


Secondary metabolite biosynthesis genes in fungi are usually physically linked and organized in large gene clusters. The physical linkage of genes involved in the same biosynthetic pathway minimizes the amount of regulatory steps necessary to regulate the biosynthetic machinery and thereby contributes to physiological economization. Regulation by chromatin accessibility is a proficient molecular mechanism to synchronize transcriptional activity of large genomic regions. Chromatin regulation largely depends on DNA and histone modifications and the histone code hypothesis proposes that a certain combination of modifications, such as acetylation, methylation or phosphorylation, is needed to perform a specific task. A number of reports from several laboratories recently demonstrated that fungal secondary metabolite (SM) biosynthesis clusters are controlled by chromatin-based mechanisms and histone acetyltransferases, deacetylases, methyltransferases, and proteins involved in heterochromatin formation were found to be involved. This led to the proposal that establishment of repressive chromatin domains over fungal SM clusters under primary metabolic conditions is a conserved mechanism that prevents SM production during the active growth phase. Consequently, transcriptional activation of SM clusters requires reprogramming of the chromatin landscape and replacement of repressive histone marks by activating marks. This review summarizes recent advances in our understanding of chromatin-based SM cluster regulation and highlights some of the open questions that remain to be answered before we can draw a more comprehensive picture.

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