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Molecular landscape of modified histones in Drosophila heterochromatic genes and euchromatin-heterochromatin transition zones.

TitleMolecular landscape of modified histones in Drosophila heterochromatic genes and euchromatin-heterochromatin transition zones.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsYasuhara JC, Wakimoto BT
Date Published2008

Constitutive heterochromatin is enriched in repetitive sequences and histone H3-methylated-at-lysine 9. Both components contribute to heterochromatin's ability to silence euchromatic genes. However, heterochromatin also harbors hundreds of expressed genes in organisms such as Drosophila. Recent studies have provided a detailed picture of sequence organization of D. melanogaster heterochromatin, but how histone modifications are associated with heterochromatic sequences at high resolution has not been described. Here, distributions of modified histones in the vicinity of heterochromatic genes of normal embryos and embryos homozygous for a chromosome rearrangement were characterized using chromatin immunoprecipitation and genome tiling arrays. We found that H3-di-methylated-at-lysine 9 (H3K9me2) was depleted at the 5' ends but enriched throughout transcribed regions of heterochromatic genes. The profile was distinct from that of euchromatic genes and suggests that heterochromatic genes are integrated into, rather than insulated from, the H3K9me2-enriched domain. Moreover, the profile was only subtly affected by a Su(var)3-9 null mutation, implicating a histone methyltransferase other than SU(VAR)3-9 as responsible for most H3K9me2 associated with heterochromatic genes in embryos. On a chromosomal scale, we observed a sharp transition to the H3K9me2 domain, which coincided with increased retrotransposon density in the euchromatin-heterochromatin (eu-het) transition zones on the long chromosome arms. Thus, a certain density of retrotransposons, rather than specific boundary elements, may demarcate Drosophila pericentric heterochromatin. We also demonstrate that a chromosome rearrangement that created a new eu-het junction altered H3K9me2 distribution and induced new euchromatic sites of enrichment as far as several megabases away from the breakpoint. Taken together, the findings argue against simple classification of H3K9me as the definitive signature of silenced genes, and clarify roles of histone modifications and repetitive DNAs in heterochromatin. The results are also relevant for understanding the effects of chromosome aberrations and the megabase scale over which epigenetic position effects can operate in multicellular organisms.