Investigation of the chromatin composition and structure of foreign DNA in a mammalian cell
Fitz-James, Maximilian Hamilton
In order to contain many millions, or even billions of base pairs within every nucleus of a eukaryotic cell, DNA must be extensively packaged. This is achieved by association of DNA with packaging proteins, resulting in the formation of chromatin, which can lead to various degrees of compaction. The most extreme form of compaction is the highly condensed mitotic chromosome, formation of which is necessary for proper resolution and segregation of the genetic material during cell division. However, the exact nature of the structure of chromatin within the mitotic chromosome and the factors which regulate it remain subjects of debate and continued investigation. The hybrid cell line F1.1 presents a unique tool for the study of mitotic chromosome structure. This mouse cell line has been observed to present a distinct chromatin structure in mitosis assembled over a large region of DNA inserted into one of its chromosomes and originating from the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Direct comparison of the structure of this distinct region of chromatin with that of the adjacent endogenous chromatin could provide insight into the nature of mitotic chromosome structure as well as the properties of the chromatin which are influencing this structure. Microscopy and Hi-C analyses showed that the mitotic chromatin organising or “scaffold” proteins are not altered over the region of S. pombe chromatin, but that the amount of chromatin organised around these proteins is diminished. In accordance with the “radial-loop” model of mitotic chromosome structure, we put forward a model whereby the S. pombe chromatin is organised into smaller chromatin loops around a constant organising scaffold. Examination of the histone post-translational modifications over the region of S. pombe chromatin revealed it to be highly heterochromatic, with high levels of H3K9me3 and associated factors such as HP1α and 5meC, and low levels of activating marks. Generation of further mammalian – S. pombe fusion cell lines recapitulated both the distinct mitotic structure and the heterochromatic profile of the inserted S. pombe chromatin. However, insertion of S. pombe DNA into a mouse cell by transfection rather than fusion resulted in a large region of S. pombe DNA that lacked both a distinct structure and heterochromatin. These results suggest that H3K9me3- mediated heterochromatin may influence the structure of chromatin in mitosis, leading to an organisation into smaller chromatin loops than non-heterochromatic regions.