JOURNAL ARTICLE

Alternative epigenetic chromatin states of polycomb target genes

Yuri B Schwartz, Tatyana G Kahn, Per Stenberg, Katsuhito Ohno, Richard Bourgon, Vincenzo Pirrotta
PLoS Genetics 2010, 6 (1): e1000805
20062800
Polycomb (PcG) regulation has been thought to produce stable long-term gene silencing. Genomic analyses in Drosophila and mammals, however, have shown that it targets many genes, which can switch state during development. Genetic evidence indicates that critical for the active state of PcG target genes are the histone methyltransferases Trithorax (TRX) and ASH1. Here we analyze the repertoire of alternative states in which PcG target genes are found in different Drosophila cell lines and the role of PcG proteins TRX and ASH1 in controlling these states. Using extensive genome-wide chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis, RNAi knockdowns, and quantitative RT-PCR, we show that, in addition to the known repressed state, PcG targets can reside in a transcriptionally active state characterized by formation of an extended domain enriched in ASH1, the N-terminal, but not C-terminal moiety of TRX and H3K27ac. ASH1/TRX N-ter domains and transcription are not incompatible with repressive marks, sometimes resulting in a "balanced" state modulated by both repressors and activators. Often however, loss of PcG repression results instead in a "void" state, lacking transcription, H3K27ac, or binding of TRX or ASH1. We conclude that PcG repression is dynamic, not static, and that the propensity of a target gene to switch states depends on relative levels of PcG, TRX, and activators. N-ter TRX plays a remarkable role that antagonizes PcG repression and preempts H3K27 methylation by acetylation. This role is distinct from that usually attributed to TRX/MLL proteins at the promoter. These results have important implications for Polycomb gene regulation, the "bivalent" chromatin state of embryonic stem cells, and gene expression in development.

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