Choi NM, Boss JM
Major histocompatibility complex class II (MHC-II) genes are fundamental components that contribute to adaptive immune responses. While characterization of the chromatin features at the core promoter region of these genes has been studied, the scope of histone modifications and the modifying factors responsible for activation of these genes are less well defined. Using the MHC-II gene HLA-DRA as a model, the extent and distribution of major histone modifications associated with active expression were defined in interferon-γ induced epithelial cells, B cells, and B-cell mutants for MHC-II expression. With active transcription, nucleosome density around the proximal regulatory region was diminished and histone acetylation and methylation modifications were distributed throughout the gene in distinct patterns that were dependent on the modification examined. Irrespective of the location, the majority of these modifications were dependent on the binding of either the X-box binding factor RFX or the class II transactivator (CIITA) to the proximal regulatory region. Importantly, once established, the modifications were stable through multiple cell divisions after the activating stimulus was removed, suggesting that activation of this system resulted in an epigenetic state. A dual crosslinking chromatin immunoprecipitation method was used to detect histone modifying protein components that interacted across the gene. Components of the MLL methyltransferase and GCN5 acetyltransferase complexes were identified. Some MLL complex components were found to be CIITA independent, including MLL1, ASH2L and RbBP5. Likewise, GCN5 containing acetyltransferase complex components belonging to the ATAC and STAGA complexes were also identified. These results suggest that multiple complexes are either used or are assembled as the gene is activated for expression. Together the results define and illustrate a complex network of histone modifying proteins and multisubunit complexes participating in MHC-II transcription.