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Genes Dev. 1991 Sep;5(9):1601-10.

Proteolytic removal of core histone amino termini and dephosphorylation of histone H1 correlate with the formation of condensed chromatin and transcriptional silencing during Tetrahymena macronuclear development.

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Department of Biology, Syracuse University, New York 13244-1220.


During the sexual cycle in Tetrahymena, the germ-line micronucleus gives rise to new macro- and micronuclei, whereas the former somatic macronucleus ceases transcription, becomes highly condensed, and is eventually eliminated from the cell. With polyclonal antibodies specific for acetylated forms of histone H4, immunofluorescent analyses have demonstrated that transcriptionally active macronuclei stain positively at all stages of the life cycle except during conjugation, when parental macronuclei become inactive and are eliminated from the cell. In this report using affinity-purified antibodies to either the acetylated or unacetylated amino-terminal domain of H4, immunofluorescent analyses suggest that the acetylated amino-terminal tails of H4 are proteolytically removed in "old" macronuclei during this period. This suggestion was further confirmed by biochemical analysis of purified old macronuclei that revealed several polypeptides with molecular mass 1-2 kD less than that of intact core histones. These species, which are unique to old macronuclei, are not newly synthesized and fail to stain with either acetylated or unacetylated H4 antibodies. Microsequence analysis clearly shows that these polypeptides are proteolytically processed forms of core histones whose amino-terminal "tails" (varying from 13 to 21 residues) have been removed. During the same developmental period, histone H1 is dephosphorylated rapidly and completely in old macronuclei. These results strongly suggest that the developmentally regulated proteolysis of core histones and dephosphorylation of histone H1 participate in a novel pathway leading to the formation of highly condensed chromatin and transcriptional silencing during Tetrahymena macronuclear development.

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