Nucleosomes are barriers to transcription in vitro; however, their effects on RNA polymerase in vivo are unknown. Here we describe a simple and general strategy to comprehensively map the positions of elongating and arrested RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) at nucleotide resolution. We find that the entry site of the first (+1) nucleosome is a barrier to RNAPII for essentially all genes, including those undergoing regulated pausing farther upstream. In contrast to the +1 nucleosome, gene body nucleosomes are low barriers and cause RNAPII stalling both at the entry site and near the dyad axis. The extent of the +1 nucleosome barrier correlates with nucleosome occupancy but anticorrelates with enrichment of histone variant H2A.Z. Importantly, depletion of H2A.Z from a nucleosome position results in a higher barrier to RNAPII. Our results suggest that nucleosomes present significant, context-specific barriers to RNAPII in vivo that can be tuned by the incorporation of H2A.Z.
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