We describe the genome-wide distributions and temporal dynamics of nucleosomes and post-translational histone modifications throughout the maternal-to-zygotic transition in embryos of Drosophila melanogaster. At mitotic cycle 8, when few zygotic genes are being transcribed, embryonic chromatin is in a relatively simple state: there are few nucleosome free regions, undetectable levels of the histone methylation marks characteristic of mature chromatin, and low levels of histone acetylation at a relatively small number of loci. Histone acetylation increases by cycle 12, but it is not until cycle 14 that nucleosome free regions and domains of histone methylation become widespread. Early histone acetylation is strongly associated with regions that we have previously shown to be bound in early embryos by the maternally deposited transcription factor Zelda, suggesting that Zelda triggers a cascade of events, including the accumulation of specific histone modifications, that plays a role in the subsequent activation of these sequences.
Keywords: chromatin; developmental biology; enhancers; evolutionary biology; genomics; histone modification; maternal-to-zygotic transition; melanogaster; stem cells.