Heterochromatin imparts regional, promoter-independent repression of genes and is epigenetically heritable. Understanding how silencing achieves this regional repression is a fundamental problem in genetics and development. Current models of yeast silencing posit that Sir proteins, recruited by transcription factors bound to the silencers, spread throughout the silenced region. To test this model directly at high resolution, we probed the silenced chromatin architecture by chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) followed by next-generation sequencing (ChIP-seq) of Sir proteins, histones, and a key histone modification, H4K16-acetyl. These analyses revealed that Sir proteins are strikingly concentrated at and immediately adjacent to the silencers, with lower levels of enrichment over the promoters at HML and HMR, the critical targets for transcriptional repression. The telomeres also showed discrete peaks of Sir enrichment yet a continuous domain of hypoacetylated histone H4K16. Surprisingly, ChIP-seq of cross-linked chromatin revealed a distribution of nucleosomes at silenced loci that was similar to Sir proteins, whereas native nucleosome maps showed a regular distribution throughout silenced loci, indicating that cross-linking captured a specialized chromatin organization imposed by Sir proteins. This specialized chromatin architecture observed in yeast informs the importance of a steric contribution to regional repression in other organisms.
Keywords: ChIP-seq; H4K16-acetyl; Sir complex; heterochromatin; histones.