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What is the role of histone H1 heterogeneity? A functional model emerges from a 50 year mystery

Rubicon Biotechnology, 26212 Dimension Drive, Suite 260, Lake Forest, CA, 92630, USA

Special Issues: Chromatin and Epigenetics

For the past 50 years, understanding the function of histone H1 heterogeneity has been mired in confusion and contradiction. Part of the reason for this is the lack of a working model that tries to explain the large body of data that has been collected about the H1 subtypes so far. In this review, a global model is described largely based on published data from the author and other researchers over the past 20 years. The intrinsic disorder built into H1 protein structure is discussed to help the reader understand that these histones are multi-conformational and adaptable to interactions with different targets. We discuss the role of each structural section of H1 (as we currently understand it), but we focus on the H1's C-terminal domain and its effect on each subtype's affinity, mobility and compaction of chromatin. We review the multiple ways these characteristics have been measured from circular dichroism to FRAP analysis, which has added to the sometimes contradictory assumptions made about each subtype. Based on a tabulation of these measurements, we then organize the H1 variants according to their ability to condense chromatin and produce nucleosome repeat lengths amenable to that compaction. This subtype variation generates a continuum of different chromatin states allowing for fine regulatory control and some overlap in the event one or two subtypes are lost to mutation. We also review the myriad of disparate observations made about each subtype, both somatic and germline specific ones, that lend support to the proposed model. Finally, to demonstrate its adaptability as new data further refines our understanding of H1 subtypes, we show how the model can be applied to experimental observations of telomeric heterochromatin in aging cells.
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