Bidirectional promoters exhibit characteristic chromatin modification signature associated with transcription elongation in both sense and antisense directions

BMC Genomics. 2018 May 2;19(1):313. doi: 10.1186/s12864-018-4697-7.


Background: In contrast to unidirectional promoters wherein antisense transcription results in short transcripts which are rapidly degraded, bidirectional promoters produce mature transcripts in both sense and antisense orientation. To understand the molecular mechanism of how productive bidirectional transcription is regulated, we focused on delineating the chromatin signature of bidirectional promoters.

Results: We report generation and utility of a reporter system that enables simultaneous scoring of transcriptional activity in opposite directions. Testing of putative bidirectional promoters in this system demonstrates no measurable bias towards any one direction of transcription. We analyzed the NUP26L-PIH1D3 bidirectional gene pair during Retinoic acid mediated differentiation of embryonic carcinoma cells. In their native context, we observed that the chromatin landscape at and around the transcription regulatory region between the pair of bidirectional genes is modulated in concordance with transcriptional activity of each gene in the pair. We then extended this analysis to 974 bidirectional gene pairs in two different cell lines, H1 human embryonic stem cells and CD4 positive T cells using publicly available ChIP-Seq and RNA-Seq data. Bidirectional gene pairs were classified based on the intergenic distance separating the two TSS of the transcripts analyzed as well as the relative expression of each transcript in a bidirectional gene pair. We report that for the entire range of intergenic distance separating bidirectional genes, the expression profile of such genes (symmetric or asymmetric) matches the histone modification profile of marks associated with active transcription initiation and elongation.

Conclusions: We demonstrate unique distribution of histone modification marks that correlate robustly with the transcription status of genes regulated by bidirectional promoters. These findings strongly imply that occurrence of these marks might signal the transcription machinery to drive maturation of antisense transcription from the bidirectional promoters.

Keywords: Bidirectional promoters; Chromatin landscape; Histone modifications; Transcription regulation.

MeSH terms

  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • Genes, Reporter / genetics
  • Genomics
  • Histones / genetics
  • Humans
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics*
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics*


  • Chromatin
  • Histones