Chromatin Structure and Domains


In eukaryotes, the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecule is associated with nuclear proteins called histones to form chromatin. This structure is not only essential to compact DNA to fit into the cell nucleus but also contributes to the regulation of DNA‐ dependent molecular mechanisms. Epigenetic modifications such as post‐translational modifications of histones and also precise spatial organisation of chromosomes are now recognised as important features for chromatin dynamics, allowing proper transcription regulation, a major issue of cell differentiation during the development of multicellular organisms.

Key Concepts

  • Chromatin is a highly structured entity with an important flexibility.
  • The large repertoire of epigenetic modifications offers a wide range of specific molecular and cellular responses.
  • Together with genetic information, epigenetic marks play a critical role in the transmission of gene regulation.
  • Nuclear organisation of chromosomes participates in the inheritance of chromatin states.
  • Chromosomes organise into functional domains important for DNA regulation.

Keywords: histones; nucleosomes; chromatin; chromosomes; nuclear organisation

Figure 1. Schematic representation of different post‐translational modifications identified on histones. Methylation is marked in red, acetylation in blue, phosphorylation in green and ubiquitination in purple. Position of each amino acid modified is indicated below.
Figure 2. Different chromosome organisations. (a) Chromosomes do not globally intermingle in the nucleus during interphase, (b) Rabl configuration of chromosomes. Centromeres of each chromosome are connected at the apical pole of the nucleus and formed the chromocenter, telomeres are preferentially found in the basal pole of the nucleus, (c) radial (left) and relative (right) positioning of human chromosomes. In the radial positioning, distances are measured according to the centre of the nucleus (arrows), and in the relative positioning, distances are measured between chromosomes (arrows).
Figure 3. Nuclear positioning of genes: (a) looping out of specific locus upon activation, (b) concentration of rDNA loci located on different chromosomes to form nucleolus, (c) natural intermingling between different chromosome territories and (d) long‐distance chromosomal interactions between two loci into repressive bodies (blue, e.g. Polycomb bodies), or into active RNA factories (red).
Figure 4. Functional organisation of chromatin in the nucleus. (a) Chromosome territory is composed of active (pink) and inactive (purple) compartment. (b) Each chromatin compartment is organised in sub‐regions of important genomic interactions. These regions also called topological associated domains (TADs) are necessary for partitioning genomic DNA of each chromosome.


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Further Reading

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Wolffe A (1998) Chromatin: Structure and Function, 3rd edn. London, UK: Academic Press.

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Izard, Fanny, and Grimaud, Charlotte(Mar 2017) Chromatin Structure and Domains. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005279.pub3]