Cell cycle control of centromeric repeat transcription and heterochromatin assembly


Heterochromatin in eukaryotic genomes regulates diverse chromosomal processes including transcriptional silencing1. However, in Schizosaccharomyces pombe RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) transcription of centromeric repeats is essential for RNA-interference-mediated heterochromatin assembly2,3,4,5. Here we study heterochromatin dynamics during the cell cycle and its effect on RNAPII transcription. We describe a brief period during the S phase of the cell cycle in which RNAPII preferentially transcribes centromeric repeats. This period is enforced by heterochromatin, which restricts RNAPII accessibility at centromeric repeats for most of the cell cycle. RNAPII transcription during S phase is linked to loading of RNA interference and heterochromatin factors such as the Ago1 subunit of the RITS complex6 and the Clr4 methyltransferase complex subunit Rik1 (ref. 7). Moreover, Set2, an RNAPII-associated methyltransferase8 that methylates histone H3 lysine 36 at repeat loci during S phase, acts in a pathway parallel to Clr4 to promote heterochromatin assembly. We also show that phosphorylation of histone H3 serine 10 alters heterochromatin during mitosis, correlating with recruitment of condensin that affects silencing of centromeric repeats. Our analyses suggest at least two distinct modes of heterochromatin targeting to centromeric repeats, whereby RNAPII transcription of repeats and chromodomain proteins bound to methylated histone H3 lysine 9 mediate recruitment of silencing factors. Together, these processes probably facilitate heterochromatin maintenance through successive cell divisions.

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Figure 1: Levels of heterochromatin-derived transcripts and RNAPII occupancy peak during S phase.
Figure 2: Heterochromatin limits RNAPII occupancy.
Figure 3: Cell-cycle-dependent changes in heterochromatin.
Figure 4: Heterochromatin assembly during S phase requires RNAPII-associated activities.


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We thank M. Yanagida for strains, and B. Strahl and C. D. Allis for antibodies. We also thank K. Tomita and X. Chen for technical help, T. Fischer for help with microarray data analysis, and other members of the Grewal laboratory for discussions. This research was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute.

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Correspondence to Shiv I. S. Grewal.

Supplementary information


This file contains Supplementary Figures 1-10 with Legends. The Supplementary Figures show results from conventional ChIP, RT-PCR, serial dilution and Northern analyses that complement data presented in primary Figures 1-4. (PDF 847 kb)

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Chen, E., Zhang, K., Nicolas, E. et al. Cell cycle control of centromeric repeat transcription and heterochromatin assembly. Nature 451, 734–737 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature06561

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