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EMBO J. 1998 Jun 1;17(11):3155-67.

Essential and redundant functions of histone acetylation revealed by mutation of target lysines and loss of the Gcn5p acetyltransferase.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, U.T.M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


The Gcn5p histone acetyltransferase exhibits a limited substrate specificity in vitro. However, neither the specificity of this enzyme in vivo nor the importance of particular acetylated residues to transcription or cell growth are well defined. To probe these questions, we mutated specific lysines in the N-termini of histones H3 and H4 and examined the effects of these mutations in yeast strains with and without functional GCN5. We found that in vivo, GCN5 is required either directly or indirectly for the acetylation of several sites in H3 and H4 in addition to those recognized by the recombinant enzyme in vitro. Moreover, in the absence of GCN5, cells accumulate in G2/M indicating that Gcn5p functions are important for normal cell-cycle progression. Mutation of K14 in H3, which serves as the major target of recombinant Gcn5p acetylation in vitro, confers a strong, synthetic growth defect in gcn5 cells. Synergistic growth defects were also observed in gcn5 cells carrying mutations in lysine pairs (K8/K16 or K5/K12) in histone H4. Strikingly, simultaneous mutation of K14 in H3 and K8 and K16 in H4 to arginine, or deletion of either the H3 or the H4 N-terminal tail, results in the death of gcn5 cells. Mutation of these same three sites to glutamine is not lethal. Indeed, this combination of mutations largely bypasses the need for GCN5 for transcriptional activation by Gal4-VP16, supporting an important role for histone acetylation in Gcn5p-mediated regulation of transcription. Our data indicate that acetylation of particular lysines in histones H3 and H4 serves both unique and overlapping functions important for normal cell growth, and that a critical overall level of histone acetylation is essential for cell viability.

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