Linker histone post-translational modifications and effects of phosphorylation on secondary structure and chromatin aggregation

Student thesis: Doctoral thesis


Linker histones play an important role in establishing and maintaining chromatin higher-order structure and in transcriptional regulation. Histone H1 in vertebrates has a characteristic three-domain structure consisting of a short flexible N-terminal domain, a central globular domain and a long C-terminal domain. The amino- and carboxyl-terminal (CTD) domains are highly basic and mainly unstructured in aqueous solution. The charge distribution is quite uniform along the CTD. Because of that, chromatin condensation is mediated through charge-neutralization of the negatively charged linker DNA, facilitating chromatin condensation into the 30nm fibre and also intermolecular aggregation. Interaction with DNA induces the complete folding of the CTD under physiological conditions in a very stable manner, which allows to classify this domain as an intrinsically disordered protein, with coupled binding and folding. Post-translational phosphorylation of the CTD of H1 has effects on secondary structure and DNA condensation. Secondary structure of the entire H10 was analysed by infrared spectroscopy. H10, as the isolated CTD, also folded upon DNA interaction and the secondary structure was modulated by phosphorylation. The structural change following phosphorylation was characterized by an increase in the amount of β‐structure that was more significant when bound to DNA and was dependant on the protein/DNA ratio. The proportion of β‐structure reached 54 % suggesting that the CTD was in an all‐β conformation in the entire protein. Concomitant with the increase in β‐structure, there was a remarkable decrease of α‐helix that suggested the loss of some of the α‐helix in the globular domain; probably associated to the propagation of the β‐structure from the CTD towards the rest of the protein. In the presence of SDS, H10 folded with percentages of secondary structure motifs similar to those found when bound to DNA. At a molar ratio 14:1 (SDS/protein) the triphosphorylated protein had 55% of β‐structure indicating that the CTD within histone H10 was also in an all‐β conformation and formed amyloid fibres. Mature chicken erythrocyte nuclei contain highly condensed and inert chromatin, mainly consisting of DNA and histone proteins. Chicken erythrocyte chromatin was used to analyse linker histones post-translational modifications and the effect of phosphorylation by CDK2 on chromatin aggregation. The nuclei were digested with micrococcal nuclease and fractionated by centrifugation in low-salt buffer into soluble and insoluble fractions. Post-translational modifications (PTMs) of the purified linker histones of both fractions were analyzed by Tandem MS. All six histone H1 subtypes (H1.01, H1.02, H1.03, H1.10, H1.1L and H1.1R) and histone H5 were identified. In our study, we identified eight novel post-translational modifications: two were identified in histone H5 and six in histone H1 subtypes. Some of the identified modifications were specific of one chromatin fraction suggesting the differential distribution of some PTMs within chromatin. Comparison of the PTMs found with other previously reported for other species showed that most of them are conserved through evolution. Since histone H1 develops its function within chromatin; chicken erythrocyte chromatin was phosphorylated ex vivo with CDK2 in the S/T-P-X-Z motifs present in linker histones in order to study the effects of ex vivo phosphorylation of linker histones on chromatin aggregation. Proteomic analyses by HPCE and MALDITOF-MS showed that the the number of phosphate groups increased with the time of phosphorylation, reaching, in the case of H5, 54% of phosphorylated species (mono and diphosphorylated) after overnight phosphorylation. Tandem MS after proteolytic digestion revealed that in all linker histones the S/T-PX-Z motifs were unphosphorylated in native chromatin indicating that the phosphorylated peptides found at other times of reaction were modified ex vivo. In H5, only S148 was identified in all samples and was phosphorylated after 1 hour. In the Tandem MS analysis of histone H1 subtypes, all the CDK2 consensus sequences, except S171(H1.1R numbering) were identified for H1.03, H1.1L and H1.1R. H1.03T16 was found phosphorylated after 15 minutes; H1.1LS192 and H1.1RS186 after 1 hour; H1.03S155, H1.1LS155 and H1.1RS153 after3 hours. Once ex vivo phosphorylation of linker histones within chromatin was confirmed, the effect of linker histones ex vivo phosphorylation on chromatin aggregation induced by MgCl2 (1.6 mM) was analysed by Dynamic Light Scattering (DLS). The most remarkable result associated to ex vivo phosphorylation of linker histones within chromatin was a decrease in the hydrodynamic diameter of the aggregated molecules. The differences became greater with the increase of phosphorylation time and with the size of the chromatin fragments. These results indicated that linker histones phosphorylation impaired chromatin aggregation.
Date of Award24 Oct 2013
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorInmaculada Ponte Marull (Director) & Alicia Roque Cordova (Director)


  • Histone H1
  • Phosphorylation
  • Post.translational modifications

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