Chromatin structure determines DNA accessibility. We compare nucleosome occupancy in mouse and human embryonic stem cells (ESCs), induced-pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and differentiated cell types using MNase-seq. To address variability inherent in this technique, we developed a bioinformatic approach to identify regions of difference (RoD) in nucleosome occupancy between pluripotent and somatic cells. Surprisingly, most chromatin remains unchanged; a majority of rearrangements appear to affect a single nucleosome. RoDs are enriched at genes and regulatory elements, including enhancers associated with pluripotency and differentiation. RoDs co-localize with binding sites of key developmental regulators, including the reprogramming factors Klf4, Oct4/Sox2 and c-Myc. Nucleosomal landscapes in ESC enhancers are extensively altered, exhibiting lower nucleosome occupancy in pluripotent cells than in somatic cells. Most changes are reset during reprogramming. We conclude that changes in nucleosome occupancy are a hallmark of cell differentiation and reprogramming and likely identify regulatory regions essential for these processes.
Polycomb group (PcG)-mediated repression is an evolutionarily conserved process critical for cell fate determination and maintenance of gene expression during embryonic development. However, the mechanisms underlying PcG recruitment in mammals remain unclear since few regulatory sites have been identified. We report two novel prospective PcG-dependent regulatory elements within the human HOXB and HOXC clusters and compare their repressive activities to a previously identified element in the HOXD cluster. These regions recruited the PcG proteins BMI1 and SUZ12 to a reporter construct in mesenchymal stem cells and conferred repression that was dependent upon PcG expression. Furthermore, we examined the potential of two DNA-binding proteins, JARID2 and YY1, to regulate PcG activity at these three elements. JARID2 has differential requirements, whereas YY1 appears to be required for repressive activity at all 3 sites. We conclude that distinct elements of the mammalian HOX clusters can recruit components of the PcG complexes and confer repression, similar to what has been seen in Drosophila. These elements, however, have diverse requirements for binding factors, which, combined with previous data on other loci, speaks to the complexity of PcG targeting in mammals.
Variation in chromatin composition and organization often reflects differences in genome function. Histone variants, for example, replace canonical histones to contribute to regulation of numerous nuclear processes including transcription, DNA repair, and chromosome segregation. Here we focus on H2A.Bbd, a rapidly evolving variant found in mammals but not in invertebrates. We report that in human cells, nucleosomes bearing H2A.Bbd form unconventional chromatin structures enriched within actively transcribed genes and characterized by shorter DNA protection and nucleosome spacing. Analysis of transcriptional profiles from cells depleted for H2A.Bbd demonstrated widespread changes in gene expression with a net downregulation of transcription and disruption of normal mRNA splicing patterns. In particular, we observed changes in exon inclusion rates and increased presence of intronic sequences in mRNA products upon H2A.Bbd depletion. Taken together, our results indicate that H2A.Bbd is involved in formation of a specific chromatin structure that facilitates both transcription and initial mRNA processing.
Polycomb group (PcG) proteins are essential for accurate axial body patterning during embryonic development. PcG-mediated repression is conserved in metazoans and is targeted in Drosophila by Polycomb response elements (PREs). However, targeting sequences in humans have not been described. While analyzing chromatin architecture in the context of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) differentiation, we discovered a 1.8kb region between HOXD11 and HOXD12 (D11.12) that is associated with PcG proteins, becomes nuclease hypersensitive, and then shows alteration in nuclease sensitivity as hESCs differentiate. The D11.12 element repressed luciferase expression from a reporter construct and full repression required a highly conserved region and YY1 binding sites. Furthermore, repression was dependent on the PcG proteins BMI1 and EED and a YY1-interacting partner, RYBP. We conclude that D11.12 is a Polycomb-dependent regulatory region with similarities to Drosophila PREs, indicating conservation in the mechanisms that target PcG function in mammals and flies.
The distribution of nucleosomes along the genome is a significant aspect of chromatin structure and is thought to influence gene regulation through modulation of DNA accessibility. However, properties of nucleosome organization remain poorly understood, particularly in mammalian genomes. Toward this goal we used tiled microarrays to identify stable nucleosome positions along the HOX gene clusters in human cell lines. We show that nucleosome positions exhibit sequence properties and long-range organization that are different from those characterized in other organisms. Despite overall variability of internucleosome distances, specific loci contain regular nucleosomal arrays with 195-bp periodicity. Moreover, such arrays tend to occur preferentially toward the 3' ends of genes. Through comparison of different cell lines, we find that active transcription is correlated with increased positioning of nucleosomes, suggesting an unexpected role for transcription in the establishment of well-positioned nucleosomes.