Stirpe, Alessandro and Guidotti, Nora and Northall, Sarah Jand Kilic, Sinan and Hainard, Alexandre and Vadas, Oscar andFierz, Beat and Schalch, Thomas
The SUV39 class of methyltransferase enzymes deposits histone H3 lysine 9 di- and trimethylation (H3K9me2/3), the hallmark of constitutive heterochromatin. How these enzymes are regulated to mark specific genomic regions as heterochromatic is poorly understood. Clr4 is the sole H3K9me2/3 methyltransferase in the fission yeast and recent evidence suggests that ubiquitination of lysine 14 on histone H3 (H3K14ub) plays a key role in H3K9 methylation. However, the molecular mechanism of this regulation and its role in heterochromatin formation remain to be determined. Our structure-function approach shows that the H3K14ub substrate binds specifically and tightly to the catalytic domain of Clr4, and thereby stimulates the enzyme by over 250-fold. Mutations that disrupt this mechanism lead to a loss of H3K9me2/3 and abolish heterochromatin silencing similar to deletion. Comparison with mammalian SET domain proteins suggests that the Clr4 SET domain harbors a conserved sensor for H3K14ub, which mediates licensing of heterochromatin formation.