Wiench M, John S, Baek S, Johnson TA, Sung M-H, Escobar T, Simmons CA, Pearce KH, Biddie SC, Sabo PJ, Thurman RE, Stamatoyannopoulos JA, Hager GL
Cell-selective glucocorticoid receptor (GR) binding to distal regulatory elements is associated with cell type-specific regions of locally accessible chromatin. These regions can either pre-exist in chromatin (pre-programmed) or be induced by the receptor (de novo). Mechanisms that create and maintain these sites are not well understood. We observe a global enrichment of CpG density for pre-programmed elements, and implicate their demethylated state in the maintenance of open chromatin in a tissue-specific manner. In contrast, sites that are actively opened by GR (de novo) are characterized by low CpG density, and form a unique class of enhancers devoid of suppressive effect of agglomerated methyl-cytosines. Furthermore, treatment with glucocorticoids induces rapid changes in methylation levels at selected CpGs within de novo sites. Finally, we identify GR-binding elements with CpGs at critical positions, and show that methylation can affect GR–DNA interactions in vitro. The findings present a unique link between tissue-specific chromatin accessibility, DNA methylation and transcription factor binding and show that DNA methylation can be an integral component of gene regulation by nuclear receptors.