Ederveen TH, Mandemaker IK, Logie C
Histones are highly basic, relatively small proteins that complex with DNA to form higher order structures that underlie chromosome topology. Of the four core histones H2A, H2B, H3 and H4, it is H3 that is most heavily modified at the post-translational level. The human genome harbours 16 annotated bona fide histone H3 genes which code for four H3 protein variants. In 2010, two novel histone H3.3 protein variants were reported, carrying over twenty amino acid substitutions. Nevertheless, they appear to be incorporated into chromatin. Interestingly, these new H3 genes are located on human chromosome 5 in a repetitive region that harbours an additional five H3 pseudogenes, but no other core histone ORFs. In addition, a human-specific novel putative histone H3.3 variant located at 12p11.21 was reported in 2011. These developments raised the question as to how many more human histone H3 ORFs there may be. Using homology searches, we detected 41 histone H3 pseudogenes in the current human genome assembly. The large majority are derived from the H3.3 gene H3F3A, and three of those may code for yet more histone H3.3 protein variants. We also identified one extra intact H3.2-type variant ORF in the vicinity of the canonical HIST2 gene cluster at chromosome 1p21.2. RNA polymerase II occupancy data revealed heterogeneity in H3 gene expression in human cell lines. None of the novel H3 genes were significantly occupied by RNA polymerase II in the data sets at hand, however. We discuss the implications of these recent developments.