Predicting human nucleosome occupancy from primary sequence

PLoS Comput Biol. 2008 Aug 22;4(8):e1000134. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000134.


Nucleosomes are the fundamental repeating unit of chromatin and comprise the structural building blocks of the living eukaryotic genome. Micrococcal nuclease (MNase) has long been used to delineate nucleosomal organization. Microarray-based nucleosome mapping experiments in yeast chromatin have revealed regularly-spaced translational phasing of nucleosomes. These data have been used to train computational models of sequence-directed nuclesosome positioning, which have identified ubiquitous strong intrinsic nucleosome positioning signals. Here, we successfully apply this approach to nucleosome positioning experiments from human chromatin. The predictions made by the human-trained and yeast-trained models are strongly correlated, suggesting a shared mechanism for sequence-based determination of nucleosome occupancy. In addition, we observed striking complementarity between classifiers trained on experimental data from weakly versus heavily digested MNase samples. In the former case, the resulting model accurately identifies nucleosome-forming sequences; in the latter, the classifier excels at identifying nucleosome-free regions. Using this model we are able to identify several characteristics of nucleosome-forming and nucleosome-disfavoring sequences. First, by combining results from each classifier applied de novo across the human ENCODE regions, the classifier reveals distinct sequence composition and periodicity features of nucleosome-forming and nucleosome-disfavoring sequences. Short runs of dinucleotide repeat appear as a hallmark of nucleosome-disfavoring sequences, while nucleosome-forming sequences contain short periodic runs of GC base pairs. Second, we show that nucleosome phasing is most frequently predicted flanking nucleosome-free regions. The results suggest that the major mechanism of nucleosome positioning in vivo is boundary-event-driven and affirm the classical statistical positioning theory of nucleosome organization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence*
  • DNA Footprinting
  • Genome, Human
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • Nucleosomes* / ultrastructure
  • Pattern Recognition, Automated / methods
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics
  • Software*


  • Nucleosomes