Chang KH, Huang A, Han H, Jiang Y, Fang X, Song CZ, Padilla S, Wang H, Qu H, Stamatoyannopoulos J, Li Q, Papayannopoulou T
To explore the response of β globin locus with established chromatin domains upon their exposure to new transcriptional environments, we transferred the chromatin-packaged β globin locus of undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) or hESC-derived erythroblasts into an adult transcriptional environment. Distinct globin expression patterns were observed. In hESC-derived erythroblasts where both ε and γ globin were active and marked by similar chromatin modifications, ε globin was immediately silenced upon transfer, whereas γ globin continued to be expressed for months, implying that different transcriptional environments were required for their continuing expression. Whereas β globin was silent both in hESCs and in hESC-derived erythroblasts, β globin was only activated upon transfer from hESCs, but not in the presence of dominant γ globin transferred from hESC-derived erythroblasts, confirming the competing nature of γ versus β globin expression. With time, however, silencing of γ globin occurred in the adult transcriptional environment with concurrent activation of β-globin, accompanied by a drastic change in the epigenetic landscape of γ and β globin gene regions without apparent changes in the transcriptional environment. This switching process could be manipulated by overexpression or downregulation of certain transcription factors. Our studies provide important insights into the interplay between the transcription environment and existing chromatin domains, and we offer an experimental system to study the time-dependent human globin switching.