Elucidating the global function of a transcription factor implies the identification of its target genes and genomic binding sites. The role of chromatin in this context is unclear, but the dominant view is that factors bind preferentially to nucleosome-depleted regions identified as DNaseI-hypersensitive sites (DHS). Here we show by ChIP, MNase, and DNaseI assays followed by deep sequencing that the progesterone receptor (PR) requires nucleosomes for optimal binding and function. In breast cancer cells treated with progestins, we identified 25,000 PR binding sites (PRbs). The majority of these sites encompassed several copies of the hexanucleotide TGTYCY, which is highly abundant in the genome. We found that functional PRbs accumulate around progesterone-induced genes, mainly in enhancers. Most of these sites overlap with DHS but exhibit high nucleosome occupancy. Progestin stimulation results in remodeling of these nucleosomes with displacement of histones H1 and H2A/H2B dimers. Our results strongly suggest that nucleosomes are crucial for PR binding and hormonal gene regulation.
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