In Vivo Analysis of Mouse H1 Histone Function

Project: Research project

Project Details


The long-term goals of this project are to advance our knowledge about the functions of H1 linker histones
and to understand the functional significance of the diversity present in this family of chromatin proteins. In
most eukaryotic cells H1 linker histones are nearly as abundant as nucleosome core particles. Therefore, H1
histones play a key role in the structure of the chromatin fiber. H1 histones affect gene expression as well as
many other processes requiring access to DNA. Much of our knowledge about the functions of H1 has been
derived from in vitro experiments. Our approach is to analyze the functions of H1 histones in vivo in mice and
in embryonic stem (ES) cells. The mouse (and other mammalian) H1 histones consist of at least 8 nonallelic
variants or subtypes that differ considerably in their primary sequences and in their expression during
development and tissue differentiation. These subtypes offer an additional level of regulation of chromatin
Our strategy for studying the functions of linker histones has been to generate and characterize mice and
ES cell lines in which one or more H1 genes have been inactivated by gene targeting. We have generated a
large collection of mouse strains consisting of both single null mutants (6 of the 8 subtypes have been
inactivated) and compound null strains. One of our most informative strains has 3 H1 genes inactivated
simultaneously (triple knock-out, TKO). This mutant demonstrated that, unlike in less complex eukaryotes, H1
histones are essential for mammalian development. Some of the mutant strains and TKO ES cells have been
analyzed for effects on gene expression. The results showed that, contrary to conclusions derived from in vitro
experiments, H1 is not a global repressor of transcription. Importantly, we discovered that H1 is involved in
promoting DNA methylation at imprinted gene loci.
We now propose to use our unique set of mouse strains and ES cell lines to: (1) Understand the
mechanism(s) by which H1 controls DNA methylation. We also propose to identify on a genome-wide scale the
sites in the genome at which H1 affects DNA methylation. (2) Assess the role of H1 posttranslational
modifications and H1 subtype diversity in the ability of H1 to regulate gene expression and DNA methylation.
(3) Develop new mutant mouse strains and ES cell lines, specifically a conditional triple H1 null, and use them
to study the role of H1 in postnatal development, cell differentiation and tissue-specific gene expression.
There is evidence that H1 histones are downstream targets of cyclin-dependent kinases regulated by the
retinoblastoma protein. Thus, H1 histones may be key transducers of information between cell cycle
regulators and chromatin structure, gene expression and other activities of the genome in normal and
malignant cells. We think we have a unique opportunity to help understand some of the numerous important
functions of this major component of eukaryotic chromosomes.
Effective start/end date9/1/088/31/09


  • National Cancer Institute: $250,085.00


  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology


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