In Silico Approaches Reveal the Potential for DNA Sequence-dependent Histone Octamer Affinity to Influence Chromatin Structure in Vivo

Ross Fraser, James Allan, Martin Simmen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nucleosome positioning signals embedded within the DNA sequence have the potential to influence the detailed structure of the higher-order chromatin fibre. In two previous studies of long stretches of DNA, encompassing the chicken beta-globin and ovine beta-lactoglobulin genes, respectively, we mapped the relative affinity of every site for the core histone octamer. In both cases a periodic arrangement of the in vitro positioning sites suggests that they might influence the folding of a nucleosome chain into higher-order structure; this hypothesis was borne out in the case of the beta-lactoglobulin gene, where the distribution of the in vitro positioning sites is related to the positions nucleosomes actually occupy in sheep liver cells. Here, we have exploited the in vitro nucleosome positioning datasets to simulate nucleosomal organisation using in silico approaches. We use the high-resolution, quantitative positioning maps to define a one-dimensional positioning energy lattice, which can be populated with a defined number of nucleosomes. Monte Carlo techniques are employed to simulate the behaviour of the model at equilibrium to produce a set of configurations, which provide a probability-based occupancy map. Employing a variety of techniques we show that the occupancy maps are a sensitive function of the histone octamer density (nucleosome repeat length) and find that a minimal change in this property can produce dramatic localised changes in structure. Although simulations generally give rise to regular periodic nucleosomal arrangements, they often show octamer density-dependent discontinuities, which tend to co-localise with sequences that adopt distinctive chromatin structure in vivo. Furthermore, the overall organisation of simulated chromatin structures are more closely related to the situation in vivo than is the original in vitro positioning data, particularly at a nucleosome density corresponding to the in vivo state. Although our model is simplified, we argue that it provides a unique insight into the influence that DNA sequence can have in determining chromatin structure and could serve as a useful basis for the incorporation of other parameters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)582-598
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number4
Early online date7 Sep 2006
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2006


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