Histone H3.3 variant dynamics in the germline of Caenorhabditis elegans

PLoS Genet. 2006 Jun;2(6):e97. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.0020097.


Germline chromatin undergoes dramatic remodeling events involving histone variants during the life cycle of an organism. A universal histone variant, H3.3, is incorporated at sites of active transcription throughout the cell cycle. The presence of H3.3 in chromatin indicates histone turnover, which is the energy-dependent removal of preexisting histones and replacement with new histones. H3.3 is also incorporated during decondensation of the Drosophila sperm pronucleus, indicating a direct role in chromatin remodeling upon fertilization. Here we present a system to monitor histone turnover and chromatin remodeling during Caenorhabditis elegans development by following the developmental dynamics of H3.3. We generated worm strains expressing green fluorescent protein- or yellow fluorescent protein-fused histone H3.3 proteins, HIS-71 and HIS-72. We found that H3.3 is retained in mature sperm chromatin, raising the possibility that it transmits epigenetic information via the male germline. Upon fertilization, maternal H3.3 enters both male and female pronuclei and is incorporated into paternal chromatin, apparently before the onset of embryonic transcription, suggesting that H3.3 can be incorporated independent of transcription. In early embryos, H3.3 becomes specifically depleted from primordial germ cells. Strikingly, the X chromosome becomes deficient in H3.3 during gametogenesis, indicating a low level of histone turnover. These results raise the possibility that the asymmetry in histone turnover between the X chromosome and autosomes is established during gametogenesis. H3.3 patterns are similar to patterns of H3K4 methylation in the primordial germ cells and on the X chromosome during gametogenesis, suggesting that histone turnover and modification are coupled processes. Our demonstration of dynamic H3.3 incorporation in nondividing cells provides a mechanistic basis for chromatin changes during germ cell development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Chromatin Assembly and Disassembly
  • Female
  • Gametogenesis
  • Germ Cells / metabolism*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Methylation
  • X Chromosome


  • Chromatin
  • Histones
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins