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Selective Methylation of Histone H3 Variant H3.1 Regulates Heterochromatin Replication

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Science  14 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6176, pp. 1249-1253
DOI: 10.1126/science.1248357

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Making a Histone Mark

The covalent marks on histones (the principal components of chromatin) play a critical role in the regulation of gene expression. Somehow these marks are preserved when a cell in a tissue divides so that the daughter cells maintain the gene expression program and tissue identity of the parent cell. Jacob et al. (p. 1249) show that the Arabidopsis histone methylase ATXR5 is specific for the replication-dependent histone variant H3.1 and maintains the repressive histone H3 lysine-27 methyl mark on the H3.1 variant during genome replication, thus, preserving cell-type–specific regions of heterochromatin and gene repression through cell division and beyond.

Abstract

Histone variants have been proposed to act as determinants for posttranslational modifications with widespread regulatory functions. We identify a histone-modifying enzyme that selectively methylates the replication-dependent histone H3 variant H3.1. The crystal structure of the SET domain of the histone H3 lysine-27 (H3K27) methyltransferase ARABIDOPSIS TRITHORAX-RELATED PROTEIN 5 (ATXR5) in complex with a H3.1 peptide shows that ATXR5 contains a bipartite catalytic domain that specifically “reads” alanine-31 of H3.1. Variation at position 31 between H3.1 and replication-independent H3.3 is conserved in plants and animals, and threonine-31 in H3.3 is responsible for inhibiting the activity of ATXR5 and its paralog, ATXR6. Our results suggest a simple model for the mitotic inheritance of the heterochromatic mark H3K27me1 and the protection of H3.3-enriched genes against heterochromatization during DNA replication.

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