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PLoS Comput Biol. 2014 Jan;10(1):e1003419. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003419. Epub 2014 Jan 23.

Combinatorial modeling of chromatin features quantitatively predicts DNA replication timing in Drosophila.

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Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering, ETH Zurich, Basel, Switzerland.
Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering, ETH Zurich, Basel, Switzerland ; Faculty of Science, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.


In metazoans, each cell type follows a characteristic, spatio-temporally regulated DNA replication program. Histone modifications (HMs) and chromatin binding proteins (CBPs) are fundamental for a faithful progression and completion of this process. However, no individual HM is strictly indispensable for origin function, suggesting that HMs may act combinatorially in analogy to the histone code hypothesis for transcriptional regulation. In contrast to gene expression however, the relationship between combinations of chromatin features and DNA replication timing has not yet been demonstrated. Here, by exploiting a comprehensive data collection consisting of 95 CBPs and HMs we investigated their combinatorial potential for the prediction of DNA replication timing in Drosophila using quantitative statistical models. We found that while combinations of CBPs exhibit moderate predictive power for replication timing, pairwise interactions between HMs lead to accurate predictions genome-wide that can be locally further improved by CBPs. Independent feature importance and model analyses led us to derive a simplified, biologically interpretable model of the relationship between chromatin landscape and replication timing reaching 80% of the full model accuracy using six model terms. Finally, we show that pairwise combinations of HMs are able to predict differential DNA replication timing across different cell types. All in all, our work provides support to the existence of combinatorial HM patterns for DNA replication and reveal cell-type independent key elements thereof, whose experimental investigation might contribute to elucidate the regulatory mode of this fundamental cellular process.

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