Background: The development of complex organisms is believed to involve progressive restrictions in cellular fate. Understanding the scope and features of chromatin dynamics during embryogenesis, and identifying regulatory elements important for directing developmental processes remain key goals of developmental biology.
Results: We used in vivo DNaseI sensitivity to map the locations of regulatory elements, and explore the changing chromatin landscape during the first 11 hours of Drosophila embryonic development. We identified thousands of conserved, developmentally dynamic, distal DNaseI hypersensitive sites associated with spatial and temporal expression patterning of linked genes and with large regions of chromatin plasticity. We observed a nearly uniform balance between developmentally up- and down-regulated DNaseI hypersensitive sites. Analysis of promoter chromatin architecture revealed a novel role for classical core promoter sequence elements in directing temporally regulated chromatin remodeling. Another unexpected feature of the chromatin landscape was the presence of localized accessibility over many protein-coding regions, subsets of which were developmentally regulated or associated with the transcription of genes with prominent maternal RNA contributions in the blastoderm.
Conclusions: Our results provide a global view of the rich and dynamic chromatin landscape of early animal development, as well as novel insights into the organization of developmentally regulated chromatin features.