Modulation of nucleosomal DNA accessibility via charge-altering post-translational modifications in histone core
Fenley, Andrew T.
Kidane, Yared H.
Onufriev, Alexey V.
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Background Controlled modulation of nucleosomal DNA accessibility via post-translational modifications (PTM) is a critical component to many cellular functions. Charge-altering PTMs in the globular histone core—including acetylation, phosphorylation, crotonylation, propionylation, butyrylation, formylation, and citrullination—can alter the strong electrostatic interactions between the oppositely charged nucleosomal DNA and the histone proteins and thus modulate accessibility of the nucleosomal DNA, affecting processes that depend on access to the genetic information, such as transcription. However, direct experimental investigation of the effects of these PTMs is very difficult. Theoretical models can rationalize existing observations, suggest working hypotheses for future experiments, and provide a unifying framework for connecting PTMs with the observed effects. Results A physics-based framework is proposed that predicts the effect of charge-altering PTMs in the histone core, quantitatively for several types of lysine charge-neutralizing PTMs including acetylation, and qualitatively for all phosphorylations, on the nucleosome stability and subsequent changes in DNA accessibility, making a connection to resulting biological phenotypes. The framework takes into account multiple partially assembled states of the nucleosome at the atomic resolution. The framework is validated against experimentally known nucleosome stability changes due to the acetylation of specific lysines, and their effect on transcription. The predicted effect of charge-altering PTMs on DNA accessibility can vary dramatically, from virtually none to a strong, region-dependent increase in accessibility of the nucleosomal DNA; in some cases, e.g., H4K44, H2AK75, and H2BK57, the effect is significantly stronger than that of the extensively studied acetylation sites such H3K56, H3K115 or H3K122. Proximity to the DNA is suggestive of the strength of the PTM effect, but there are many exceptions. For the vast majority of charge-altering PTMs, the predicted increase in the DNA accessibility should be large enough to result in a measurable modulation of transcription. However, a few possible PTMs, such as acetylation of H4K77, counterintuitively decrease the DNA accessibility, suggestive of the repressed chromatin. A structural explanation for the phenomenon is provided. For the majority of charge-altering PTMs, the effect on DNA accessibility is simply additive (noncooperative), but there are exceptions, e.g., simultaneous acetylation of H4K79 and H3K122, where the combined effect is amplified. The amplification is a direct consequence of the nucleosome–DNA complex having more than two structural states. The effect of individual PTMs is classified based on changes in the accessibility of various regions throughout the nucleosomal DNA. The PTM’s resulting imprint on the DNA accessibility, “PTMprint,” is used to predict effects of many yet unexplored PTMs. For example, acetylation of H4K44 yields a PTMprint similar to the PTMprint of H3K56, and thus acetylation of H4K44 is predicted to lead to a wide range of strong biological effects. Conclusion Charge-altering post-translational modifications in the relatively unexplored globular histone core may provide a precision mechanism for controlling accessibility to the nucleosomal DNA.