Terminal cell differentiation is correlated with the extensive sequestering of previously active genes into compact transcriptionally inert heterochromatin. In vertebrate blood cells, these changes can be traced to the accumulation of a developmentally regulated heterochromatin protein, MENT. Cryoelectron microscopy of chicken granulocyte chromatin, which is highly enriched with MENT, reveals exceptionally compact polynucleosomes, which maintain a level of higher order folding above that imposed by linker histones. The amino acid sequence of MENT reveals a close structural relationship with serpins, a large family of proteins known for their ability to undergo dramatic conformational transitions. Conservation of the 'hinge region' consensus in MENT indicates that this ability is retained by the protein. MENT is distinguished from the other serpins by being a basic protein, containing several positively charged surface clusters, which are likely to be involved in ionic interactions with DNA. One of the positively charged domains bears a significant similarity to the chromatin binding region of nuclear lamina proteins and with the A-T-rich DNA-binding motif, which may account for the targeting of MENT to peripheral heterochromatin. MENT ectopically expressed in a mammalian cell line is transported into nuclei and is associated with intranuclear foci of condensed chromatin.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology