Histone modifications for human epigenome analysis

J Hum Genet. 2013 Jul;58(7):439-45. doi: 10.1038/jhg.2013.66. Epub 2013 Jun 6.


Histones function both positively and negatively in the regulation of gene expression, mainly governed by post-translational modifications on specific amino acid residues. Although histone modifications are not necessarily prerequisite codes, they may still serve as good epigenetic indicators of chromatin state associated with gene activation or repression. In particular, six emerging classes of histone H3 modifications are subjected for epigenome profiling by the International Human Epigenome Consortium. In general, transcription start sites of actively transcribed genes are marked by trimethylated H3K4 (H3K4me3) and acetylated H3K27 (H3K27ac), and active enhancers can be identified by enrichments of both monomethylated H3K4 (H3K4me1) and H3K27ac. Gene bodies of actively transcribed genes are associated with trimethylated H3K36 (H3K36me3). Gene repression can be mediated through two distinct mechanisms involving trimethylated H3K9 (H3K9me3) and trimethylated H3K27 (H3K27me3). Enrichments of these histone modifications on specific loci, or in genome wide, in given cells can be analyzed by chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP)-based methods using an antibody directed against the site-specific modification. When performing ChIP experiments, one should be careful about the specificity of antibody, as this affects the data interpretation. If cell samples with preserved histone-DNA contacts are available, evaluation of histone modifications, in addition to DNA methylaion, at specific gene loci would be useful for deciphering the epigenome state for human genetics studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenomics / methods*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Silencing
  • Genetic Loci
  • Genome, Human
  • Histones / genetics*
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational


  • Histones