Propagation of Polycomb-repressed chromatin requires sequence-specific recruitment to DNA

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Science  07 Apr 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6333, pp. 85-88
DOI: 10.1126/science.aai8266

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DNA sequence and inherited gene silencing

Cell fate decisions require a gene's transcriptional status, whether on or off, to be stably and heritably maintained over multiple cell generations. For silenced genes, heterochromatin domains are associated with specific histone posttranslational modifications, and these histone marks are maintained during DNA replication and chromosome duplication (see the Perspective by De and Kassis). Laprell et al. show that parental methylated histone H3 lysine 27 (H3K27) nucleosomes in Drosophila are inherited in daughter cells after replication and can repress transcription, but that they are not sufficient to propagate the mark. Trimethylation of newly incorporated nucleosomes requires recruitment of the methyltransferase Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) to neighboring cis-regulatory DNA elements. Coleman and Struhl demonstrate that H3K27 trimethylated nucleosomes play a causal role in transmitting epigenetic memory at a Drosophila HOX gene through anchoring of PRC2 at the Polycomb response element binding site. Wang and Moazed examine fission yeast and show that both sequence-dependent and chromodomain sequence-independent mechanisms are required for stable epigenetic inheritance of histone modifications and the epigenetic maintenance of silencing. These studies highlight the crucial role of DNA binding for heritable gene silencing during growth and development.

Science, this issue p. 85, p. eaai8236, p. 88; see also p. 28


Epigenetic inheritance models posit that during Polycomb repression, Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) propagates histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation (H3K27me3) independently of DNA sequence. We show that insertion of Polycomb response element (PRE) DNA into the Drosophila genome creates extended domains of H3K27me3-modified nucleosomes in the flanking chromatin and causes repression of a linked reporter gene. After excision of PRE DNA, H3K27me3 nucleosomes become diluted with each round of DNA replication, and reporter gene repression is lost. After excision in replication-stalled cells, H3K27me3 levels stay high and repression persists. H3K27me3-marked nucleosomes therefore provide a memory of repression that is transmitted in a sequence-independent manner to daughter strand DNA during replication. In contrast, propagation of H3K27 trimethylation to newly incorporated nucleosomes requires sequence-specific targeting of PRC2 to PRE DNA.

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