The PHD finger: a versatile epigenome reader

Trends Biochem Sci. 2011 Jul;36(7):364-72. doi: 10.1016/j.tibs.2011.03.005. Epub 2011 Apr 21.


PHD (plant homeodomain) zinc fingers are structurally conserved modules found in proteins that modify chromatin as well as mediate molecular interactions in gene transcription. The original discovery of their role in gene transcription is attributed to the recognition of lysine-methylated histone H3. Recent studies show that PHD fingers have a sophisticated histone sequence reading capacity that is modulated by the interplay between different histone modifications. These studies underscore the functional versatility of PHD fingers as epigenome readers that control gene expression through molecular recruitment of multiprotein complexes of chromatin regulators and transcription factors. Moreover, they reinforce the concept that evolutionary changes in amino acids surrounding ligand binding sites on a conserved structural fold impart great functional diversity upon this family of proteins.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Histones / chemistry
  • Histones / genetics
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Polycomb-Group Proteins
  • Protein Binding
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Transcription Factors / chemistry
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Histones
  • PHF1 protein, human
  • Phf1 protein, mouse
  • Polycomb-Group Proteins
  • Transcription Factors