Histone H3 lysine 4 methylation patterns in higher eukaryotic genes

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  • An Erratum to this article was published on 01 May 2004


Lysine residues within histones can be mono-, di - or tri-methylated. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae tri-methylation of Lys 4 of histone H3 (K4/H3) correlates with transcriptional activity, but little is known about this methylation state in higher eukaryotes. Here, we examine the K4/H3 methylation pattern at the promoter and transcribed region of metazoan genes. We analysed chicken genes that are developmentally regulated, constitutively active or inactive. We found that the pattern of K4/H3 methylation shows similarities to S. cerevisiae. Tri-methyl K4/H3 peaks in the 5′ transcribed region and active genes can be discriminated by high levels of tri-methyl K4/H3 compared with inactive genes. However, our results also identify clear differences compared to yeast, as significant levels of K4/H3 methylation are present on inactive genes within the β-globin locus, implicating this modification in maintaining a 'poised' chromatin state. In addition, K4/H3 di-methylation is not genome-wide and di-methylation is not uniformly distributed throughout the transcribed region. These results indicate that in metazoa, di- and tri-methylation of K4/H3 is linked to active transcription and that significant differences exist in the genome-wide methylation pattern as compared with S. cerevisiae.

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Figure 1: Distribution of K4/H3 tri-methylation at the chicken β-globin locus.
Figure 2: Distribution of K4/H3 di-methylation at the chicken β-globin locus.
Figure 3: Comparison of di-methyl and tri-methyl K4/H3 at active and inactive genes in 15-day erythrocytes.
Figure 4: Distribution of di-methyl and tri-methyl K4/H3 over active genes (a) Organization of the chicken lysozyme locus with the matrix attachment regions (MARs) indicated.


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Work in the T.K. laboratory is funded by Cancer Research UK and EU grant QLG1-CT-2000-01935. The C.C.R. laboratory acknowledges funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. We gratefully acknowledge the expertise and support of C. Bonifer's team (University of Leeds) in all matters concerning the chicken lysozyme locus. R.S. is a long term HFSP Fellow.

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Correspondence to Tony Kouzarides.

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