A Transcription Factor Pulse Can Prime Chromatin for Heritable Transcriptional Memory

Mol Cell Biol. 2017 Feb 1;37(4):e00372-16. doi: 10.1128/MCB.00372-16. Print 2017 Feb 15.


Short-term and long-term transcriptional memory is the phenomenon whereby the kinetics or magnitude of gene induction is enhanced following a prior induction period. Short-term memory persists within one cell generation or in postmitotic cells, while long-term memory can survive multiple rounds of cell division. We have developed a tissue culture model to study the epigenetic basis for long-term transcriptional memory (LTTM) and subsequently used this model to better understand the epigenetic mechanisms that enable heritable memory of temporary stimuli. We find that a pulse of transcription factor CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein alpha (C/EBPα) induces LTTM on a subset of target genes that survives nine cell divisions. The chromatin landscape at genes that acquire LTTM is more repressed than at those genes that do not exhibit memory, akin to a latent state. We show through chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) and chemical inhibitor studies that RNA polymerase II (Pol II) elongation is important for establishing memory in this model but that Pol II itself is not retained as part of the memory mechanism. More generally, our work reveals that a transcription factor involved in lineage specification can induce LTTM and that failure to rerepress chromatin is one epigenetic mechanism underlying transcriptional memory.

Keywords: chromatin; epigenetic; inflammation; priming; trained immunity; transcriptional memory.

MeSH terms

  • CCAAT-Enhancer-Binding Protein-alpha / metabolism
  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Lysine / metabolism
  • Methylation / drug effects
  • Protein Binding / drug effects
  • RNA Polymerase II / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Transcription, Genetic* / drug effects


  • CCAAT-Enhancer-Binding Protein-alpha
  • Chromatin
  • Histones
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Transcription Factors
  • RNA Polymerase II
  • Lysine