Polycomb group (PcG) proteins are transcriptional repressors that play important roles in regulating gene expression during animal development. In vitro experiments have shown that PcG protein complexes can compact chromatin to limit the activity of chromatin remodeling enzymes and access of the transcriptional machinery to DNA. In fitting with these ideas, gene promoters associated with PcG proteins have been reported to be less accessible than other gene promoters. However, it remains largely untested in vivo whether PcG proteins define chromatin accessibility or other chromatin features. To address this important question, we examine the chromatin accessibility and nucleosome landscape at PcG protein-bound promoters in mouse embryonic stem cells using the assay for transposase accessible chromatin (ATAC)-seq. Combined with genetic ablation strategies, we unexpectedly discover that although PcG protein-occupied gene promoters exhibit reduced accessibility, this does not rely on PcG proteins. Instead, the Polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1) appears to play a unique role in driving elevated nucleosome occupancy and decreased nucleosomal spacing in Polycomb chromatin domains. Our new genome-scale observations argue, in contrast to the prevailing view, that PcG proteins do not significantly affect chromatin accessibility and highlight an underappreciated complexity in the relationship between chromatin accessibility, the nucleosome landscape, and PcG-mediated transcriptional repression.
© 2018 King et al.; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.