Transcription and Nucleosome Structure

Transcription requires that sequences on DNA are accessible to RNA polymerase and other proteins. However, in eukaryotic cells, DNA is complexed with histone proteins in highly compressed chromatin (see Figure 11.5). How can the proteins necessary for transcription gain access to eukaryotic DNA when it is complexed with histones?

The answer to this question is that, before transcription, the chromatin structure is modified so that the DNA is in a more open configuration and is more accessible to the transcription machinery. Several types of proteins have roles in chromatin modification. Acetyltransferases add acetyl groups to amino acids at the ends of the histone proteins, which destabilizes the nucleosome structure and makes the DNA more accessible. Other types of histone modification also can affect chromatin packing. In addition, proteins called chromatin- remodeling proteins may bind to the chromatin and displace nucleosomes from promoters and other regions important for transcription. We will take a closer look at the role of changes to chromatin structure associated with gene expression in Chapter 16.

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