The histone variant H2A.Z is an important regulator of enhancer activity

Nucleic Acids Res. 2015 Nov 16;43(20):9742-56. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkv825. Epub 2015 Aug 28.


Gene regulatory programs in different cell types are largely defined through cell-specific enhancers activity. The histone variant H2A.Z has been shown to play important roles in transcription mainly by controlling proximal promoters, but its effect on enhancer functions remains unclear. Here, we demonstrate by genome-wide approaches that H2A.Z is present at a subset of active enhancers bound by the estrogen receptor alpha (ERα). We also determine that H2A.Z does not influence the local nucleosome positioning around ERα enhancers using ChIP sequencing at nucleosomal resolution and unsupervised pattern discovery. We further highlight that H2A.Z-enriched enhancers are associated with chromatin accessibility, H3K122ac enrichment and hypomethylated DNA. Moreover, upon estrogen stimulation, the enhancers occupied by H2A.Z produce enhancer RNAs (eRNAs), and recruit RNA polymerase II as well as RAD21, a member of the cohesin complex involved in chromatin interactions between enhancers and promoters. Importantly, their recruitment and eRNAs production are abolished by H2A.Z depletion, thereby revealing a novel functional link between H2A.Z occupancy and enhancer activity. Taken together, our findings suggest that H2A.Z acts as an important player for enhancer functions by establishing and maintaining a chromatin environment required for RNA polymerase II recruitment, eRNAs transcription and enhancer-promoters interactions, all essential attributes of enhancer activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone / metabolism
  • DNA Methylation
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic*
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / metabolism
  • Genomics
  • Histone Code
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Nucleosomes / metabolism
  • RNA Polymerase II / metabolism
  • Transcriptional Activation*


  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Chromatin
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Histones
  • Nucleosomes
  • cohesins
  • histone H2A.F-Z
  • Estradiol
  • RNA Polymerase II

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE57436