Binding of regulatory proteins to nucleosomes is modulated by dynamic histone tails

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Little is known about the roles of histone tails in modulating nucleosomal DNA accessibility and its recognition by other macromolecules. Here we generate extensive atomic level conformational ensembles of histone tails in the context of the full nucleosome, totaling 65 microseconds of molecular dynamics simulations. We observe rapid conformational transitions between tail bound and unbound states, and characterize kinetic and thermodynamic properties of histone tail-DNA interactions. Different histone types exhibit distinct binding modes to specific DNA regions. Using a comprehensive set of experimental nucleosome complexes, we find that the majority of them target mutually exclusive regions with histone tails on nucleosomal/linker DNA around the super-helical locations +/- 1, +/- 2, and +/- 7, and histone tails H3 and H4 contribute most to this process. These findings are explained within competitive binding and tail displacement models. Finally, we demonstrate the crosstalk between different histone tail post-translational modifications and mutations; those which change charge, suppress tail-DNA interactions and enhance histone tail dynamics and DNA accessibility. The intrinsic disorder of histone tails poses challenges in their characterization. Here the authors apply extensive molecular dynamics simulations of the full nucleosome to show reversible binding to DNA with specific binding modes of different types of histone tails, where charge-altering modifications suppress tail-DNA interactions and may boost interactions between nucleosomes and nucleosome-binding proteins.