Mechanisms of HP1-mediated gene silencing in Drosophila
Heterochromatin Protein 1 (HP1) is a structural component of silent chromatin at telomeres and centromeres. Euchromatic genes repositioned near heterochromatin by chromosomal rearrangements are typically silenced in an HP1-dependent manner. Silencing is thought to involve the spreading of heterochromatin proteins over the rearranged genes. HP1 associates with centric heterochromatin through an interaction with methylated lysine 9 of histone H3, a modification generated by SU(VAR)3-9. The current model for spreading of silent chromatin involves HP1-dependent recruitment of SU(VAR)3-9, resulting in the methylation of adjacent nucleosomes and association of HP1 along the chromatin fiber. To address mechanisms of silent chromatin formation and spreading, HP1 was fused to the DNA-binding domain of the E. coli lacI repressor and expressed in Drosophila melanogaster stocks carrying heat shock reporter genes positioned 1.9 and 3.7 kb downstream of lac operator repeats. Association of lacI-HP1 with the repeats resulted in silencing of both reporter genes and correlated with a closed chromatin structure consisting of regularly spaced nucleosomes, similar to that observed in centric heterochromatin. Chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments demonstrated that HP1 spread bi-directionally from the tethering site and associated with the silenced reporter transgenes. To examine mechanisms of spreading, the effects of a mutation in Su(var)3-9 were investigated. Silencing was minimally affected at 1.9 kb, but eliminated at 3.7 kb, suggesting that HP1-mediated silencing can operate in a SU(VAR)3-9-independent and -dependent manner.