Annu Rev Genet 2009 ;43:559-99
Department of Biochemistry, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, NYU School of Medicine, New York, New York 10016, USA.
Chromatin is a highly regulated nucleoprotein complex through which genetic material is structured and maneuvered to elicit cellular processes, including transcription, cell division, differentiation, and DNA repair. In eukaryotes, the core of this structure is composed of nucleosomes, or repetitive histone octamer units typically enfolded by 147 base pairs of DNA. DNA is arranged and indexed through these nucleosomal structures to adjust local chromatin compaction and accessibility. Histones are subject to multiple covalent posttranslational modifications, some of which alter intrinsic chromatin properties, others of which present or hinder binding modules for non-histone, chromatin-modifying complexes. Although certain histone marks correlate with different biological outputs, we have yet to fully appreciate their effects on transcription and other cellular processes. Tremendous advancements over the past years have uncovered intriguing histone-related matters and raised important related questions. This review revisits past breakthroughs and discusses novel developments that pertain to histone posttranslational modifications and the affects they have on transcription and DNA packaging.