Histones are fundamental components of chromatin in all eukaryotes. Hydra, an emerging model system belonging to the basal metazoan phylum Cnidaria, provides an ideal platform to understand the evolution of core histone components at the base of eumetazoan phyla. Hydra exhibits peculiar properties such as tremendous regenerative capacity, lack of organismal senescence and rarity of malignancy. In light of the role of histone modifications and histone variants in these processes it is important to understand the nature of histones themselves and their variants in hydra. Here, we report identification of the complete repertoire of histone-coding genes in the Hydra magnipapillata genome. Hydra histones were classified based on their copy numbers, gene structure and other characteristic features. Genomic organization of canonical histone genes revealed the presence of H2A-H2B and H3-H4 paired clusters in high frequency and also a cluster with all core histones along with H1. Phylogenetic analysis of identified members of H2A and H2B histones suggested rapid expansion of these groups in Hydrozoa resulting in the appearance of unique subtypes. Amino acid sequence level comparisons of H2A and H2B forms with bilaterian counterparts suggest the possibility of a highly mobile nature of nucleosomes in hydra. Absolute quantitation of transcripts confirmed the high copy number of histones and supported the canonical nature of H2A. Furthermore, functional characterization of H2A.X.1 and a unique variant H2A.X.2 in the gastric region suggest their role in the maintenance of genome integrity and differentiation processes. These findings provide insights into the evolution of histones and their variants in hydra.
Keywords: DNA damage response; Evolution; Histone variants; Histones; Hydra.
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