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PLoS Genet. 2017 Dec 21;13(12):e1007102. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007102. eCollection 2017 Dec.

Binding of high mobility group A proteins to the mammalian genome occurs as a function of AT-content.

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Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Basel, Switzerland.
Faculty of Science, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.
Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Basel, Switzerland.


Genomic location can inform on potential function and recruitment signals for chromatin-associated proteins. High mobility group (Hmg) proteins are of similar size as histones with Hmga1 and Hmga2 being particularly abundant in replicating normal tissues and in cancerous cells. While several roles for Hmga proteins have been proposed we lack a comprehensive description of their genomic location as a function of chromatin, DNA sequence and functional domains. Here we report such a characterization in mouse embryonic stem cells in which we introduce biotin-tagged constructs of wild-type and DNA-binding domain mutants. Comparative analysis of the genome-wide distribution of Hmga proteins reveals pervasive binding, a feature that critically depends on a functional DNA-binding domain and which is shared by both Hmga proteins. Assessment of the underlying queues instructive for this binding modality identifies AT richness, defined as high frequency of A or T bases, as the major criterion for local binding. Additionally, we show that other chromatin states such as those linked to cis-regulatory regions have little impact on Hmga binding both in stem and differentiated cells. As a consequence, Hmga proteins are preferentially found at AT-rich regions such as constitutively heterochromatic regions but are absent from enhancers and promoters arguing for a limited role in regulating individual genes. In line with this model, we show that genetic deletion of Hmga proteins in stem cells causes limited transcriptional effects and that binding is conserved in neuronal progenitors. Overall our comparative study describing the in vivo binding modality of Hmga1 and Hmga2 identifies the proteins' preference for AT-rich DNA genome-wide and argues against a suggested function of Hmga at regulatory regions. Instead we discover pervasive binding with enrichment at regions of higher AT content irrespective of local variation in chromatin modifications.

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