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Histone H3 and H4 tails play an important role in nucleosome phase separation. Biophys Chem 2022 Apr;283:106767



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Scopus ID

2-s2.0-85124393236 (requires institutional sign-in at Scopus site)   1 Citation


Chromatin organization and its dynamic regulation are crucial in governing the temporal and spatial accessibility of DNA for proper gene expression. Disordered chains of nucleosomes comprise the basis of eukaryotic chromatin, forming higher-level organization across a range of length scales. Models of chromatin organization involving phase separation driven by chromatin-associating proteins have been proposed. More recently, evidence has emerged that nucleosome arrays can phase separate in the absence of other protein factors, yet questions remain regarding the molecular basis of chromatin phase separation that governs this dynamic nuclear organization. Here, we break chromatin down into its most basic subunit, the nucleosome core particle, and investigate phase separation using turbidity assays in conjunction with differential interference contrast microscopy. We show that, at physiologically-relevant concentrations, this fundamental subunit of chromatin undergoes phase separation. Individually removing the H3 and H4 tails abrogates phase separation under the same conditions. Taking a reductionist approach to investigate H3 and H4 tail peptide interactions in-trans with DNA and nucleosome core particles supports the direct involvement of these tails in chromatin phase separation. These results provide insight into fundamental mechanisms underlying phase separation of chromatin, which starts at the level of the nucleosome core particle, and support that long-range inter-nucleosomal interactions are sufficient to drive phase separation at nuclear concentrations. Additionally, our data have implications for understanding crosstalk between histone tails and provide a lens through which to interpret the effect of histone post-translational modifications and sequence variants. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Emerging models propose that chromatin organization is based in phase separation, however, mechanisms that drive this dynamic nuclear organization are only beginning to be understood. Previous focus has been on phase separation driven by chromatin-associating proteins, but this has recently shifted to recognize a direct role of chromatin in phase separation. Here, we take a fundamental approach in understanding chromatin phase separation and present new findings that the basic subunit of chromatin, the nucleosome core particle, undergoes phase separation under physiological concentrations of nucleosome and monovalent salt. Furthermore, the histone H3 and H4 tails are involved in phase separation in a manner independent of histone-associating proteins. These data suggest that H3 and H4 tail epigenetic factors may modulate chromatin phase separation.

Author List

Hammonds EF, Harwig MC, Paintsil EA, Tillison EA, Hill RB, Morrison EA


Megan C. Harwig Research Scientist II in the Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Ronald Blake Hill PhD Professor in the Biochemistry department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Emma A. Morrison PhD Assistant Professor in the Biochemistry department at Medical College of Wisconsin

MESH terms used to index this publication - Major topics in bold

Protein Processing, Post-Translational