News FocusCell Biology

How Chromatin Changes Its Shape

Science  20 Aug 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5431, pp. 1200-1203
DOI: 10.1126/science.285.5431.1200

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How the many molecular players that convey to the genetic material the signals it needs to determine what to do in the cell has been a mystery because the DNA is literally balled up with histones and other proteins in an amalgam known as chromatin. Recently, however, cell biologists have been discovering that several chemical appendages, including acetyl, phosphate, and methyl groups, cause chromatin fibers to open up when those groups are attached to histone proteins, thus boosting the activity of specific genes. One of those modifications, histone phosphorylation, also appears to be involved in other types of chromatin remodeling, such as the chromosome condensation that takes place prior to cell division. The finding suggests that histone modifications may have an impact far beyond gene activation.