Since the time when humans first learned to record their thoughts in written form, codes have kept sensitive information from prying eyes. But conveying information through a code requires someone who can read it as well as write it. The same is true for one of nature´s methods for transmitting information that activates or silences a gene: the "histone code."
First formally proposed in 2000 by C. David Allis, Ph.D., and his postdoctoral fellow Brian Strahl, Ph.D., the histone code is a pattern of chemical flags that decorates the "tails" of spool-like proteins called histones. Double-helical DNA, spanning some seven feet in length, wraps around histones to condense and compact itself in the nucleus of all body cells. Together, histones and DNA form a largely protective and highly constrained structure called chromatin.
In the August 1 issue of Genes & Development, Allis, along with Rockefeller University colleagues Wolfgang Fischle, Ph.D., and Yanming Wang, Ph.D., and a team of researchers at University of Virginia led by Sepideh Khorasanizadeh, Ph.D., report that protein modules called chromodomains "read" the histone code responsible for silencing, or switching off, genes.
Joseph Bonner | EurekAlert!
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