Chromatin signature discovery via histone modification profile alignments.
We report on the development of an unsupervised algorithm for the genome-wide discovery and analysis of chromatin signatures. Our Chromatin-profile Alignment followed by Tree-clustering algorithm (ChAT) employs dynamic programming of combinatorial histone modification profiles to identify locally similar chromatin sub-regions and provides complementary utility with respect to existing methods. We applied ChAT to genomic maps of 39 histone modifications in human CD4(+) T cells to identify both known and novel chromatin signatures. ChAT was able to detect chromatin signatures previously associated with transcription start sites and enhancers as well as novel signatures associated with a variety of regulatory elements. Promoter-associated signatures discovered with ChAT indicate that complex chromatin signatures, made up of numerous co-located histone modifications, facilitate cell-type specific gene expression. The discovery of novel L1 retrotransposon-associated bivalent chromatin signatures suggests that these elements influence the mono-allelic expression of human genes by shaping the chromatin environment of imprinted genomic regions. Analysis of long gene-associated chromatin signatures point to a role for the H4K20me1 and H3K79me3 histone modifications in transcriptional pause release. The novel chromatin signatures and functional associations uncovered by ChAT underscore the ability of the algorithm to yield novel insight on chromatin-based regulatory mechanisms.