The programmed formation of hundreds of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) is essential for proper meiosis and fertility. In mice and humans, the location of these breaks is determined by the meiosis-specific protein PRDM9, through the DNA-binding specificity of its zinc-finger domain. PRDM9 also has methyltransferase activity. Here, we show that this activity is required for H3K4me3 and H3K36me3 deposition and for DSB formation at PRDM9-binding sites. By analyzing mice that express two PRDM9 variants with distinct DNA-binding specificities, we show that each variant generates its own set of H3K4me3 marks independently from the other variant. Altogether, we reveal several basic principles of PRDM9-dependent DSB site determination, in which an excess of sites are designated through PRDM9 binding and subsequent histone methylation, from which a subset is selected for DSB formation.
Keywords: DMC1; DNA double-strand break; H3K36me3; H3K4me3; PRDM9; chromatin; histone methylation; homologous recombination; meiosis; recombination hotspot.
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