H1 linker histones are key chromatin architectural proteins facilitating the formation of higher order chromatin structures. The H1 family constitutes the most heterogeneous group of histone proteins, with eleven non-allelic H1 variants in mammals. H1 variants differ in their biochemical properties and exhibit significant sequence divergence from one another, yet most of them are highly conserved during evolution from mouse to human. H1 variants are differentially regulated during development and their cellular compositions undergo dramatic changes in embryogenesis, gametogenesis, tissue maturation and cellular differentiation. As a group, H1 histones are essential for mouse development and proper stem cell differentiation. Here we summarize our current knowledge on the expression and functions of H1 variants in mammalian development and stem cell differentiation. Their diversity, sequence conservation, complex expression and distinct functions suggest that H1s mediate chromatin reprogramming and contribute to the large variations and complexity of chromatin structure and gene expression in the mammalian genome.
Keywords: Chromatin; Epigenetic gene regulation; H1 variants; Linker histones; Mammalian development; Stem cell differentiation.
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