Structure of histone-based chromatin in Archaea

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Science  11 Aug 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6351, pp. 609-612
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaj1849

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Origin of DNA compaction

As a repeating unit in eukaryotic chromatin, a nucleosome wraps DNA in superhelical turns around a histone octamer. Mattiroli et al. present the crystal structure of an archaeal histone-DNA complex in which the histone-mediated DNA geometry is exactly the same as that in the nucleosome. Comparing features of archaeal and eukaryotic chromatin structures offers important insights into the evolution of eukaryotic nucleosomes.

Science, this issue p. 609


Small basic proteins present in most Archaea share a common ancestor with the eukaryotic core histones. We report the crystal structure of an archaeal histone-DNA complex. DNA wraps around an extended polymer, formed by archaeal histone homodimers, in a quasi-continuous superhelix with the same geometry as DNA in the eukaryotic nucleosome. Substitutions of a conserved glycine at the interface of adjacent protein layers destabilize archaeal chromatin, reduce growth rate, and impair transcription regulation, confirming the biological importance of the polymeric structure. Our data establish that the histone-based mechanism of DNA compaction predates the nucleosome, illuminating the origin of the nucleosome.

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