Journal Articles

  • Absolute and relative quantification of RNA modifications via biosynthetic isotopomers
    [Oct 2014]

    In the resurging field of RNA modifications, quantification is a bottleneck blocking many exciting avenues. With currently over 150 known nucleoside alterations, detection and quantification methods must encompass multiple modifications for a comprehensive profile. LC–MS/MS approaches offer a perspective for comprehensive parallel quantification of all the various modifications found in total RNA of a given organism. By feeding 13C-glucose as sole carbon source, we have generated a stable isotope-labeled internal standard (SIL-IS) for bacterial RNA, which facilitates relative comparison of all modifications. While conventional SIL-IS approaches require the chemical synthesis of single modifications in weighable quantities, this SIL-IS consists of a nucleoside mixture covering all detectable RNA modifications of Escherichia coli, yet in small and initially unknown quantities. For absolute in addition to relative quantification, those quantities were determined by a combination of external calibration and sample spiking of the biosynthetic SIL-IS. For each nucleoside, we thus obtained a very robust relative response factor, which permits direct conversion of the MS signal to absolute amounts of substance. The application of the validated SIL-IS allowed highly precise quantification with standard deviations <2% during a 12-week period, and a linear dynamic range that was extended by two orders of magnitude.

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  • A statistical model of ChIA-PET data for accurate detection of chromatin 3D interactions
    [Oct 2014]

    Identification of three-dimensional (3D) interactions between regulatory elements across the genome is crucial to unravel the complex regulatory machinery that orchestrates proliferation and differentiation of cells. ChIA-PET is a novel method to identify such interactions, where physical contacts between regions bound by a specific protein are quantified using next-generation sequencing. However, determining the significance of the observed interaction frequencies in such datasets is challenging, and few methods have been proposed. Despite the fact that regions that are close in linear genomic distance have a much higher tendency to interact by chance, no methods to date are capable of taking such dependency into account. Here, we propose a statistical model taking into account the genomic distance relationship, as well as the general propensity of anchors to be involved in contacts overall. Using both real and simulated data, we show that the previously proposed statistical test, based on Fisher's exact test, leads to invalid results when data are dependent on genomic distance. We also evaluate our method on previously validated cell-line specific and constitutive 3D interactions, and show that relevant interactions are significant, while avoiding over-estimating the significance of short nearby interactions.

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  • COMET: adaptive context-based modeling for ultrafast HIV-1 subtype identification
    [Oct 2014]

    Viral sequence classification has wide applications in clinical, epidemiological, structural and functional categorization studies. Most existing approaches rely on an initial alignment step followed by classification based on phylogenetic or statistical algorithms. Here we present an ultrafast alignment-free subtyping tool for human immunodeficiency virus type one (HIV-1) adapted from Prediction by Partial Matching compression. This tool, named COMET, was compared to the widely used phylogeny-based REGA and SCUEAL tools using synthetic and clinical HIV data sets (1 090 698 and 10 625 sequences, respectively). COMET's sensitivity and specificity were comparable to or higher than the two other subtyping tools on both data sets for known subtypes. COMET also excelled in detecting and identifying new recombinant forms, a frequent feature of the HIV epidemic. Runtime comparisons showed that COMET was almost as fast as USEARCH. This study demonstrates the advantages of alignment-free classification of viral sequences, which feature high rates of variation, recombination and insertions/deletions. COMET is free to use via an online interface.

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  • Invincible DNA tethers: covalent DNA anchoring for enhanced temporal and force stability in magnetic tweezers experiments
    [Oct 2014]

    Magnetic tweezers are a powerful single-molecule technique that allows real-time quantitative investigation of biomolecular processes under applied force. High pulling forces exceeding tens of picoNewtons may be required, e.g. to probe the force range of proteins that actively transcribe or package the genome. Frequently, however, the application of such forces decreases the sample lifetime, hindering data acquisition. To provide experimentally viable sample lifetimes in the face of high pulling forces, we have designed a novel anchoring strategy for DNA in magnetic tweezers. Our approach, which exploits covalent functionalization based on heterobifunctional poly(ethylene glycol) crosslinkers, allows us to strongly tether DNA while simultaneously suppressing undesirable non-specific adhesion. A complete force and lifetime characterization of these covalently anchored DNA-tethers demonstrates that, compared to more commonly employed anchoring strategies, they withstand 3-fold higher pulling forces (up to 150 pN) and exhibit up to 200-fold higher lifetimes (exceeding 24 h at a constant force of 150 pN). This advance makes it possible to apply the full range of biologically relevant force scales to biomolecular processes, and its straightforward implementation should extend its reach to a multitude of applications in the field of single-molecule force spectroscopy.

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  • Finding pathway-modulating genes from a novel Ontology Fingerprint-derived gene network
    [Oct 2014]

    To enhance our knowledge regarding biological pathway regulation, we took an integrated approach, using the biomedical literature, ontologies, network analyses and experimental investigation to infer novel genes that could modulate biological pathways. We first constructed a novel gene network via a pairwise comparison of all yeast genes’ Ontology Fingerprints—a set of Gene Ontology terms overrepresented in the PubMed abstracts linked to a gene along with those terms’ corresponding enrichment P-values. The network was further refined using a Bayesian hierarchical model to identify novel genes that could potentially influence the pathway activities. We applied this method to the sphingolipid pathway in yeast and found that many top-ranked genes indeed displayed altered sphingolipid pathway functions, initially measured by their sensitivity to myriocin, an inhibitor of de novo sphingolipid biosynthesis. Further experiments confirmed the modulation of the sphingolipid pathway by one of these genes, PFA4, encoding a palmitoyl transferase. Comparative analysis showed that few of these novel genes could be discovered by other existing methods. Our novel gene network provides a unique and comprehensive resource to study pathway modulations and systems biology in general.

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  • sPARTA: a parallelized pipeline for integrated analysis of plant miRNA and cleaved mRNA data sets, including new miRNA target-identification software
    [Oct 2014]

    Parallel analysis of RNA ends (PARE) is a technique utilizing high-throughput sequencing to profile uncapped, mRNA cleavage or decay products on a genome-wide basis. Tools currently available to validate miRNA targets using PARE data employ only annotated genes, whereas important targets may be found in unannotated genomic regions. To handle such cases and to scale to the growing availability of PARE data and genomes, we developed a new tool, ‘sPARTA’ (small RNA-PARE target analyzer) that utilizes a built-in, plant-focused target prediction module (aka ‘miRferno’). sPARTA not only exhibits an unprecedented gain in speed but also it shows greater predictive power by validating more targets, compared to a popular alternative. In addition, the novel ‘seed-free’ mode, optimized to find targets irrespective of complementarity in the seed-region, identifies novel intergenic targets. To fully capitalize on the novelty and strengths of sPARTA, we developed a web resource, ‘comPARE’, for plant miRNA target analysis; this facilitates the systematic identification and analysis of miRNA-target interactions across multiple species, integrated with visualization tools. This collation of high-throughput small RNA and PARE datasets from different genomes further facilitates re-evaluation of existing miRNA annotations, resulting in a ‘cleaner’ set of microRNAs.

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  • Experimental mapping of DNA duplex shape enabled by global lineshape analyses of a nucleotide-independent nitroxide probe
    [Oct 2014]

    Sequence-dependent variation in structure and dynamics of a DNA duplex, collectively referred to as ‘DNA shape’, critically impacts interactions between DNA and proteins. Here, a method based on the technique of site-directed spin labeling was developed to experimentally map shapes of two DNA duplexes that contain response elements of the p53 tumor suppressor. An R5a nitroxide spin label, which was covalently attached at a specific phosphate group, was scanned consecutively through the DNA duplex. X-band continuous-wave electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy was used to monitor rotational motions of R5a, which report on DNA structure and dynamics at the labeling site. An approach based on Pearson's coefficient analysis was developed to collectively examine the degree of similarity among the ensemble of R5a spectra. The resulting Pearson's coefficients were used to generate maps representing variation of R5a mobility along the DNA duplex. The R5a mobility maps were found to correlate with maps of certain DNA helical parameters, and were capable of revealing similarity and deviation in the shape of the two closely related DNA duplexes. Collectively, the R5a probe and the Pearson's coefficient-based lineshape analysis scheme yielded a generalizable method for examining sequence-dependent DNA shapes.

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  • leeHom: adaptor trimming and merging for Illumina sequencing reads
    [Oct 2014]

    The sequencing of libraries containing molecules shorter than the read length, such as in ancient or forensic applications, may result in the production of reads that include the adaptor, and in paired reads that overlap one another. Challenges for the processing of such reads are the accurate identification of the adaptor sequence and accurate reconstruction of the original sequence most likely to have given rise to the observed read(s). We introduce an algorithm that removes the adaptors and reconstructs the original DNA sequences using a Bayesian maximum a posteriori probability approach. Our algorithm is faster, and provides a more accurate reconstruction of the original sequence for both simulated and ancient DNA data sets, than other approaches. leeHom is released under the GPLv3 and is freely available from: https://bioinf.eva.mpg.de/leehom/

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  • A high-resolution network model for global gene regulation in Mycobacterium tuberculosis
    [Oct 2014]

    The resilience of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) is largely due to its ability to effectively counteract and even take advantage of the hostile environments of a host. In order to accelerate the discovery and characterization of these adaptive mechanisms, we have mined a compendium of 2325 publicly available transcriptome profiles of MTB to decipher a predictive, systems-scale gene regulatory network model. The resulting modular organization of 98% of all MTB genes within this regulatory network was rigorously tested using two independently generated datasets: a genome-wide map of 7248 DNA-binding locations for 143 transcription factors (TFs) and global transcriptional consequences of overexpressing 206 TFs. This analysis has discovered specific TFs that mediate conditional co-regulation of genes within 240 modules across 14 distinct environmental contexts. In addition to recapitulating previously characterized regulons, we discovered 454 novel mechanisms for gene regulation during stress, cholesterol utilization and dormancy. Significantly, 183 of these mechanisms act uniquely under conditions experienced during the infection cycle to regulate diverse functions including 23 genes that are essential to host-pathogen interactions. These and other insights underscore the power of a rational, model-driven approach to unearth novel MTB biology that operates under some but not all phases of infection.

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  • Unraveling the sequence-dependent polymorphic behavior of d(CpG) steps in B-DNA
    [Oct 2014]

    We have made a detailed study of one of the most surprising sources of polymorphism in B-DNA: the high twist/low twist (HT/LT) conformational change in the d(CpG) base pair step. Using extensive computations, complemented with database analysis, we were able to characterize the twist polymorphism in the d(CpG) step in all the possible tetranucleotide environment. We found that twist polymorphism is coupled with BI/BII transitions, and, quite surprisingly, with slide polymorphism in the neighboring step. Unexpectedly, the penetration of cations into the minor groove of the d(CpG) step seems to be the key element in promoting twist transitions. The tetranucleotide environment also plays an important role in the sequence-dependent d(CpG) polymorphism. In this connection, we have detected a previously unexplored intramolecular C-H···O hydrogen bond interaction that stabilizes the low twist state when 3'-purines flank the d(CpG) step. This work explains a coupled mechanism involving several apparently uncorrelated conformational transitions that has only been partially inferred by earlier experimental or theoretical studies. Our results provide a complete description of twist polymorphism in d(CpG) steps and a detailed picture of the molecular choreography associated with this conformational change.

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  • What makes the lac-pathway switch: identifying the fluctuations that trigger phenotype switching in gene regulatory systems
    [Oct 2014]

    Multistable gene regulatory systems sustain different levels of gene expression under identical external conditions. Such multistability is used to encode phenotypic states in processes including nutrient uptake and persistence in bacteria, fate selection in viral infection, cell-cycle control and development. Stochastic switching between different phenotypes can occur as the result of random fluctuations in molecular copy numbers of mRNA and proteins arising in transcription, translation, transport and binding. However, which component of a pathway triggers such a transition is generally not known. By linking single-cell experiments on the lactose-uptake pathway in E. coli to molecular simulations, we devise a general method to pinpoint the particular fluctuation driving phenotype switching and apply this method to the transition between the uninduced and induced states of the lac-genes. We find that the transition to the induced state is not caused only by the single event of lac-repressor unbinding, but depends crucially on the time period over which the repressor remains unbound from the lac-operon. We confirm this notion in strains with a high expression level of the lac-repressor (leading to shorter periods over which the lac-operon remains unbound), which show a reduced switching rate. Our techniques apply to multistable gene regulatory systems in general and allow to identify the molecular mechanisms behind stochastic transitions in gene regulatory circuits.

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  • Triple helical DNA in a duplex context and base pair opening
    [Oct 2014]

    It is fundamental to explore in atomic detail the behavior of DNA triple helices as a means to understand the role they might play in vivo and to better engineer their use in genetic technologies, such as antigene therapy. To this aim we have performed atomistic simulations of a purine-rich antiparallel triple helix stretch of 10 base triplets flanked by canonical Watson–Crick double helices. At the same time we have explored the thermodynamic behavior of a flipping Watson–Crick base pair in the context of the triple and double helix. The third strand can be accommodated in a B-like duplex conformation. Upon binding, the double helix changes shape, and becomes more rigid. The triple-helical region increases its major groove width mainly by oversliding in the negative direction. The resulting conformations are somewhere between the A and B conformations with base pairs remaining almost perpendicular to the helical axis. The neighboring duplex regions maintain a B DNA conformation. Base pair opening in the duplex regions is more probable than in the triplex and binding of the Hoogsteen strand does not influence base pair breathing in the neighboring duplex region.

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  • The transcriptional co-repressor TLE3 suppresses basal signaling on a subset of estrogen receptor {alpha} target genes
    [Oct 2014]

    Chromatin constitutes a repressive barrier to the process of ligand-dependent transcriptional activity of nuclear receptors. Nucleosomes prevent the binding of estrogen receptor α (ERα) in absence of ligand and thus represent an important level of transcriptional regulation. Here, we show that in breast cancer MCF-7 cells, TLE3, a co-repressor of the Groucho/Grg/TLE family, interacts with FoxA1 and is detected at regulatory elements of ERα target genes in absence of estrogen. As a result, the chromatin is maintained in a basal state of acetylation, thus preventing ligand-independent activation of transcription. In absence of TLE3, the basal expression of ERα target genes induced by E2 is increased. At the TFF1 gene, the recruitment of TLE3 to the chromatin is FoxA1-dependent and prevents ERα and RNA polymerase II recruitment to TFF1 gene regulatory elements. Moreover, the interaction of TLE3 with HDAC2 results in the maintenance of acetylation at a basal level. We also provide evidence that TLE3 is recruited at several other regulatory elements of ERα target genes and is probably an important co-regulator of the E2 signaling pathway. In sum, our results describe a mechanism by which TLE3 affects ligand dependency in ERα-regulated gene expression via its binding restricting function and its role in gene regulation by histone acetylation.

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  • Global MEF2 target gene analysis in cardiac and skeletal muscle reveals novel regulation of DUSP6 by p38MAPK-MEF2 signaling
    [Oct 2014]

    MEF2 plays a profound role in the regulation of transcription in cardiac and skeletal muscle lineages. To define the overlapping and unique MEF2A genomic targets, we utilized ChIP-exo analysis of cardiomyocytes and skeletal myoblasts. Of the 2783 and 1648 MEF2A binding peaks in skeletal myoblasts and cardiomyocytes, respectively, 294 common binding sites were identified. Genomic targets were compared to differentially expressed genes in RNA-seq analysis of MEF2A depleted myogenic cells, revealing two prominent genetic networks. Genes largely associated with muscle development were down-regulated by loss of MEF2A while up-regulated genes reveal a previously unrecognized function of MEF2A in suppressing growth/proliferative genes. Several up-regulated (Tprg, Mctp2, Kitl, Prrx1, Dusp6) and down-regulated (Atp1a2, Hspb7, Tmem182, Sorbs2, Lmod3) MEF2A target genes were chosen for further investigation. Interestingly, siRNA targeting of the MEF2A/D heterodimer revealed a somewhat divergent role in the regulation of Dusp6, a MAPK phosphatase, in cardiac and skeletal myogenic lineages. Furthermore, MEF2D functions as a p38MAPK-dependent repressor of Dusp6 in myoblasts. These data illustrate that MEF2 orchestrates both common and non-overlapping programs of signal-dependent gene expression in skeletal and cardiac muscle lineages.

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  • Genome-wide and single-cell analyses reveal a context dependent relationship between CBP recruitment and gene expression
    [Oct 2014]

    Genome-wide distribution of histone H3K18 and H3K27 acetyltransferases, CBP (CREBBP) and p300 (EP300), is used to map enhancers and promoters, but whether these elements functionally require CBP/p300 remains largely uncertain. Here we compared global CBP recruitment with gene expression in wild-type and CBP/p300 double-knockout (dKO) fibroblasts. ChIP-seq using CBP-null cells as a control revealed nearby CBP recruitment for 20% of constitutively-expressed genes, but surprisingly, three-quarters of these genes were unaffected or slightly activated in dKO cells. Computationally defined enhancer-promoter-units (EPUs) having a CBP peak near the enhancer-like element were more predictive, with CBP/p300 deletion attenuating expression of 40% of such constitutively-expressed genes. Examining signal-responsive (Hypoxia Inducible Factor) genes showed that 97% were within 50 kilobases of an inducible CBP peak, and 70% of these required CBP/p300 for full induction. Unexpectedly, most inducible CBP peaks occurred near signal-nonresponsive genes. Finally, single-cell expression analysis revealed additional context dependence where some signal-responsive genes were not uniformly dependent on CBP/p300 in individual cells. While CBP/p300 was needed for full induction of some genes in single-cells, for other genes CBP/p300 increased the probability of maximal expression. Thus, target gene context influences the transcriptional requirement for CBP/p300, possibly by multiple mechanisms.

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  • Chromosome position effects on gene expression in Escherichia coli K-12
    [Oct 2014]

    In eukaryotes, the location of a gene on the chromosome is known to affect its expression, but such position effects are poorly understood in bacteria. Here, using Escherichia coli K-12, we demonstrate that expression of a reporter gene cassette, comprised of the model E. coli lac promoter driving expression of gfp, varies by ~300-fold depending on its precise position on the chromosome. At some positions, expression was more than 3-fold higher than at the natural lac promoter locus, whereas at several other locations, the reporter cassette was completely silenced: effectively overriding local lac promoter control. These effects were not due to differences in gene copy number, caused by partially replicated genomes. Rather, the differences in gene expression occur predominantly at the level of transcription and are mediated by several different features that are involved in chromosome organization. Taken together, our findings identify a tier of gene regulation above local promoter control and highlight the importance of chromosome position effects on gene expression profiles in bacteria.

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  • The multidrug ABC transporter BmrC/BmrD of Bacillus subtilis is regulated via a ribosome-mediated transcriptional attenuation mechanism
    [Oct 2014]

    Expression of particular drug transporters in response to antibiotic pressure is a critical element in the development of bacterial multidrug resistance, and represents a serious concern for human health. To obtain a better understanding of underlying regulatory mechanisms, we have dissected the transcriptional activation of the ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporter BmrC/BmrD of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis. By using promoter-GFP fusions and live cell array technology, we demonstrate a temporally controlled transcriptional activation of the bmrCD genes in response to antibiotics that target protein synthesis. Intriguingly, bmrCD expression only occurs during the late-exponential and stationary growth stages, irrespective of the timing of the antibiotic challenge. We show that this is due to tight transcriptional control by the transition state regulator AbrB. Moreover, our results show that the bmrCD genes are co-transcribed with bmrB (yheJ), a small open reading frame immediately upstream of bmrC that harbors three alternative stem-loop structures. These stem-loops are apparently crucial for antibiotic-induced bmrCD transcription. Importantly, the antibiotic-induced bmrCD expression requires translation of bmrB, which implies that BmrB serves as a regulatory leader peptide. Altogether, we demonstrate for the first time that a ribosome-mediated transcriptional attenuation mechanism can control the expression of a multidrug ABC transporter.

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  • AP endonucleases process 5-methylcytosine excision intermediates during active DNA demethylation in Arabidopsis
    [Oct 2014]

    DNA methylation is a primary epigenetic modification regulating gene expression and chromatin structure in many eukaryotes. Plants have a unique DNA demethylation system in that 5-methylcytosine (5mC) is directly removed by DNA demethylases, such as DME/ROS1 family proteins, but little is known about the downstream events. During 5mC excision, DME produces 3'-phosphor-α, β-unsaturated aldehyde and 3'-phosphate by successive β- and -eliminations, respectively. The kinetic studies revealed that these 3'-blocking lesions persist for a significant amount of time and at least two different enzyme activities are required to immediately process them. We demonstrate that Arabidopsis AP endonucleases APE1L, APE2 and ARP have distinct functions to process such harmful lesions to allow nucleotide extension. DME expression is toxic to E. coli due to excessive 5mC excision, but expression of APE1L or ARP significantly reduces DME-induced cytotoxicity. Finally, we propose a model of base excision repair and DNA demethylation pathway unique to plants.

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  • Tls1 regulates splicing of shelterin components to control telomeric heterochromatin assembly and telomere length
    [Oct 2014]

    Heterochromatin preferentially forms at repetitive DNA elements through RNAi-mediated targeting of histone-modifying enzymes. It was proposed that splicing factors interact with the RNAi machinery or regulate the splicing of repeat transcripts to directly participate in heterochromatin assembly. Here, by screening the fission yeast deletion library, we comprehensively identified factors required for telomeric heterochromatin assembly, including a novel gene tls1+. Purification of Tls1 and mass spectrometry analysis of its interacting proteins show that Tls1 associates with the spliceosome subunit Brr2. RNA sequencing analysis shows that the splicing of a subset of mRNAs are affected in tls1 cells, including mRNAs of shelterin components rap1+ and poz1+. Importantly, replacing rap1+ and poz1+ with their cDNAs significantly alleviated heterochromatin defects of tls1 cells, suggesting that the missplicing of shelterin components is the cause of such defects, and that splicing factors regulate telomeric heterochromatin through the proper splicing of heterochromatin factors. In addition to its role in telomeric heterochromatin assembly, Tls1-mediated splicing of shelterin mRNAs also regulates telomere length. Given that its human homologue C9ORF78 also associates with the spliceosome and is overexpressed in multiple cancer cell lines, our results suggest that C9ORF78 overexpression might alter the proper splicing of genes during cancer progression.

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  • SSX2 is a novel DNA-binding protein that antagonizes polycomb group body formation and gene repression
    [Oct 2014]

    Polycomb group (PcG) complexes regulate cellular identity through epigenetic programming of chromatin. Here, we show that SSX2, a germline-specific protein ectopically expressed in melanoma and other types of human cancers, is a chromatin-associated protein that antagonizes BMI1 and EZH2 PcG body formation and derepresses PcG target genes. SSX2 further negatively regulates the level of the PcG-associated histone mark H3K27me3 in melanoma cells, and there is a clear inverse correlation between SSX2/3 expression and H3K27me3 in spermatogenesis. However, SSX2 does not affect the overall composition and stability of PcG complexes, and there is no direct concordance between SSX2 and BMI1/H3K27me3 presence at regulated genes. This suggests that SSX2 antagonizes PcG function through an indirect mechanism, such as modulation of chromatin structure. SSX2 binds double-stranded DNA in a sequence non-specific manner in agreement with the observed widespread association with chromatin. Our results implicate SSX2 in regulation of chromatin structure and function.

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