Detection of histone modifications at specific gene loci in single cells in histological sections

Nat Methods. 2013 Feb;10(2):171-7. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.2332. Epub 2013 Jan 13.


Chromatin immunoprecipitation assays have contributed greatly to our understanding of the role of histone modifications in gene regulation. However, they do not permit analysis with single-cell resolution, thus confounding analyses of heterogeneous cell populations. Here we present a method that permits visualization of histone modifications of single genomic loci with single-cell resolution in formaldehyde-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue sections based on combined use of in situ hybridization and proximity ligation assays. We show that dimethylation of lysine 4 of histone H3 (H3K4me2) at the MYH11 locus is restricted to the smooth muscle cell (SMC) lineage in human and mouse tissue sections and that the mark persists even in phenotypically modulated SMC in atherosclerotic lesions that show no detectable expression of SMC marker genes. This methodology has promise for broad applications in the study of epigenetic mechanisms in complex multicellular tissues in development and disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atherosclerosis / metabolism
  • Cell Lineage
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Fixatives
  • Formaldehyde
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Lysine / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Methylation
  • Mice
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / metabolism
  • Myosin Heavy Chains / metabolism
  • Paraffin Embedding


  • Fixatives
  • Histones
  • MYH11 protein, human
  • myosin 11, mouse
  • Formaldehyde
  • Myosin Heavy Chains
  • Lysine

Associated data

  • RefSeq/NG_009299
  • RefSeq/NM_002474
  • RefSeq/NM_013607