Lysine 27 of replication-independent histone H3.3 is required for Polycomb target gene silencing but not for gene activation

Mary Leatham-Jensen, Christopher M Uyehara, Brian D Strahl, A Gregory Matera, Robert J Duronio, Daniel J McKay
PLoS Genetics 2019 January 30, 15 (1): e1007932
Proper determination of cell fates depends on epigenetic information that is used to preserve memory of decisions made earlier in development. Post-translational modification of histone residues is thought to be a central means by which epigenetic information is propagated. In particular, modifications of histone H3 lysine 27 (H3K27) are strongly correlated with both gene activation and gene repression. H3K27 acetylation is found at sites of active transcription, whereas H3K27 methylation is found at loci silenced by Polycomb group proteins. The histones bearing these modifications are encoded by the replication-dependent H3 genes as well as the replication-independent H3.3 genes. Owing to differential rates of nucleosome turnover, H3K27 acetylation is enriched on replication-independent H3.3 histones at active gene loci, and H3K27 methylation is enriched on replication-dependent H3 histones across silenced gene loci. Previously, we found that modification of replication-dependent H3K27 is required for Polycomb target gene silencing, but it is not required for gene activation. However, the contribution of replication-independent H3.3K27 to these functions is unknown. Here, we used CRISPR/Cas9 to mutate the endogenous replication-independent H3.3K27 to a non-modifiable residue. Surprisingly, we find that H3.3K27 is also required for Polycomb target gene silencing despite the association of H3.3 with active transcription. However, the requirement for H3.3K27 comes at a later stage of development than that found for replication-dependent H3K27, suggesting a greater reliance on replication-independent H3.3K27 in post-mitotic cells. Notably, we find no evidence of global transcriptional defects in H3.3K27 mutants, despite the strong correlation between H3.3K27 acetylation and active transcription.

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