Transcriptional silencing in Saccharomyces cerevisiae is mediated by heterochromatin. There is a plethora of information regarding the roles of histone residues in transcriptional silencing, but exactly how histone residues contribute to heterochromatin structure is not resolved. We address this question by testing the effects of a series of histone H3 and H4 mutations involving residues in their aminoterminal tails, on the solvent-accessible and lateral surfaces of the nucleosome, and at the interface of the H3/H4 tetramer and H2A/H2B dimer on heterochromatin structure and transcriptional silencing. The general state, stability, and conformational heterogeneity of chromatin are examined with a DNA topology-based assay, and the primary chromatin structure is probed by micrococcal nuclease. We demonstrate that the histone mutations differentially affect heterochromatin. Mutations of lysine 16 of histoneH4(H4-K16) and residues in the LRS (loss of rDNA silencing) domain of nucleosome surface markedly alter heterochromatin structure, supporting the notion that H4-K16 and LRS play key roles in heterochromatin formation. Deletion of the aminoterminal tail of H3 moderately alters heterochromatin structure. Interestingly, a group of mutations in the globular domains of H3 and H4 that abrogate or greatly reduce transcriptional silencing increase the conformational heterogeneity and/or reduce the stability of heterochromatin without affecting its overall structure. Surprisingly, yet another series of mutations abolish or reduce silencing without significantly affecting the structure, stability, or conformational heterogeneity of heterochromatin. Therefore, histone residues may contribute to the structure, stability, conformational heterogeneity, or other yet-to-be-characterized features of heterochromatin important for transcriptional silencing.
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