Proteomics to study DNA-bound and chromatin-associated gene regulatory complexes

Hum Mol Genet. 2016 Oct 1;25(R2):R106-R114. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddw208. Epub 2016 Jul 11.


High-resolution mass spectrometry (MS)-based proteomics is a powerful method for the identification of soluble protein complexes and large-scale affinity purification screens can decode entire protein interaction networks. In contrast, protein complexes residing on chromatin have been much more challenging, because they are difficult to purify and often of very low abundance. However, this is changing due to recent methodological and technological advances in proteomics. Proteins interacting with chromatin marks can directly be identified by pulldowns with synthesized histone tails containing posttranslational modifications (PTMs). Similarly, pulldowns with DNA baits harbouring single nucleotide polymorphisms or DNA modifications reveal the impact of those DNA alterations on the recruitment of transcription factors. Accurate quantitation - either isotope-based or label free - unambiguously pinpoints proteins that are significantly enriched over control pulldowns. In addition, protocols that combine classical chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) methods with mass spectrometry (ChIP-MS) target gene regulatory complexes in their in-vivo context. Similar to classical ChIP, cells are crosslinked with formaldehyde and chromatin sheared by sonication or nuclease digested. ChIP-MS baits can be proteins in tagged or endogenous form, histone PTMs, or lncRNAs. Locus-specific ChIP-MS methods would allow direct purification of a single genomic locus and the proteins associated with it. There, loci can be targeted either by artificial DNA-binding sites and corresponding binding proteins or via proteins with sequence specificity such as TAL or nuclease deficient Cas9 in combination with a specific guide RNA. We predict that advances in MS technology will soon make such approaches generally applicable tools in epigenetics.