The linker histone (LH), an auxiliary protein that can bind to chromatin and interact with the linker DNA to form stem motifs, is a key element of chromatin compaction. By affecting the chromatin condensation level, it also plays an active role in gene expression. However, the presence and variable concentration of LH in chromatin fibers with different DNA linker lengths indicate that its folding and condensation are highly adaptable and dependent on the immediate nucleosome environment. Recent experimental studies revealed that the behavior of LH in mononucleosomes markedly differs from that in small nucleosome arrays, but the associated mechanism is unknown. Here we report a structural analysis of the behavior of LH in mononucleosomes and oligonucleosomes (2-6 nucleosomes) using mesoscale chromatin simulations. We show that the adapted stem configuration heavily depends on the strength of electrostatic interactions between LH and its parental DNA linkers, and that those interactions tend to be asymmetric in small oligonucleosome systems. Namely, LH in oligonucleosomes dominantly interacts with one DNA linker only, as opposed to mononucleosomes where LH has similar interactions with both linkers and forms a highly stable nucleosome stem. Although we show that the LH condensation depends sensitively on the electrostatic interactions with entering and exiting DNA linkers, other interactions, especially by nonparental cores and nonparental linkers, modulate the structural condensation by softening LH and thus making oligonucleosomes more flexible, in comparison to to mono- and dinucleosomes. We also find that the overall LH/chromatin interactions sensitively depend on the linker length because the linker length determines the maximal nucleosome stem length. For mononucleosomes with DNA linkers shorter than LH, LH condenses fully, while for DNA linkers comparable or longer than LH, the LH extension in mononucleosomes strongly follows the length of DNA linkers, unhampered by neighboring linker histones. Thus, LH is more condensed for mononucleosomes with short linkers, compared to oligonucleosomes, and its orientation is variable and highly environment-dependent. More generally, the work underscores the agility of LH whose folding dynamics critically controls genomic packaging and gene expression.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
- Surfaces, Coatings and Films
- Materials Chemistry