Weicksel, S.E., Xu, J., and Sagerström, C.G. (2013) Dynamic Nucleosome Organization at hox Promoters during Zebrafish Embryogenesis. PLoS One. 8(5):e63175.
Nucleosome organization at promoter regions plays an important role in regulating gene activity. Genome-wide studies in yeast, flies, worms, mammalian embryonic stem cells and transformed cell lines have found well-positioned nucleosomes flanking a nucleosome depleted region (NDR) at transcription start sites. This nucleosome arrangement depends on DNA sequence (cis-elements) as well as DNA binding factors and ATP-dependent chromatin modifiers (trans-factors). However, little is understood about how the nascent embryonic genome positions nucleosomes during development. This is particularly intriguing since the embryonic genome must undergo a broad reprogramming event upon fusion of sperm and oocyte. Using four stages of early embryonic zebrafish development, we map nucleosome positions at the promoter region of 37 zebrafish hox genes. We find that nucleosome arrangement at the hox promoters is a progressive process that takes place over several stages. At stages immediately after fertilization, nucleosomes appear to be largely disordered at hox promoter regions. At stages after activation of the embryonic genome, nucleosomes are detectable at hox promoters, with positions becoming more uniform and more highly occupied. Since the genomic sequence is invariant during embryogenesis, this progressive change in nucleosome arrangement suggests that trans-factors play an important role in organizing nucleosomes during embryogenesis. Separating hox genes into expressed and non-expressed groups shows that expressed promoters have better positioned and occupied nucleosomes, as well as distinct NDRs, than non-expressed promoters. Finally, by blocking the retinoic acid-signaling pathway, we disrupt early hox gene transcription, but observe no effect on nucleosome positions, suggesting that active hox transcription is not a driving force behind the arrangement of nucleosomes at the promoters of hox genes during early development.