Marking time: the dynamic role of chromatin and covalent modification in transcription

Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009 Jan;41(1):155-63. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2008.08.028. Epub 2008 Sep 2.


The expression of genes subject to strict regulation can be a highly dynamic, cyclical process that sequentially achieves and then limits transcription. Kinetic investigations of the estrogen responsive pS2 (TFF1) promoter, to determine the occupancy of factors or the occurrence of covalent marks on chromatin, have provided the most comprehensive picture of the complexity of transcriptional cycling to date. Cycles are initiated by the assembly of intermediate transcription factors that in turn provoke conscription of the basal transcription machinery. These events then achieve activation of the polymerase II complex, which is subsequently followed by limitation of productivity through the action of repressive complexes. This latter phase resets the target promoter, through acting on chromatin structure, such that a subsequent cycle can be initiated. In consequence, transcription is dependent upon cis-acting elements (DNA and nucleosomes) that either interact with or are modified by trans-acting factors. Induced local structural changes to chromatin encompassing regulatory elements of gene promoters include alteration of the positional phasing of nucleosomes, substitution by variant histones, post-translational modification of nucleosomes, changes in the methylation of CpG dinucleotides and breaks in the sugar-phosphate backbone of DNA. A primary function of covalent modification of chromatin may be to drive a sequential progression of reversible interactions that achieve and regulate gene expression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatin / chemistry
  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Methylation
  • Nucleosomes
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Chromatin
  • Estrogens
  • Histones
  • Nucleosomes
  • DNA