Chromatin-dependent regulation of secondary metabolite biosynthesis in fungi: is the picture complete?

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2019 Nov 1;43(6):591-607. doi: 10.1093/femsre/fuz018.


Fungal secondary metabolites are small molecules that exhibit diverse biological activities exploited in medicine, industry and agriculture. Their biosynthesis is governed by co-expressed genes that often co-localize in gene clusters. Most of these secondary metabolite gene clusters are inactive under laboratory conditions, which is due to a tight transcriptional regulation. Modifications of chromatin, the complex of DNA and histone proteins influencing DNA accessibility, play an important role in this regulation. However, tinkering with well-characterised chemical and genetic modifications that affect chromatin alters the expression of only few biosynthetic gene clusters, and thus the regulation of the vast majority of biosynthetic pathways remains enigmatic. In the past, attempts to activate silent gene clusters in fungi mainly focused on histone acetylation and methylation, while in other eukaryotes many other post-translational modifications are involved in transcription regulation. Thus, how chromatin regulates the expression of gene clusters remains a largely unexplored research field. In this review, we argue that focusing on only few well-characterised chromatin modifications is significantly hampering our understanding of the chromatin-based regulation of biosynthetic gene clusters. Research on underexplored chromatin modifications and on the interplay between different modifications is timely to fully explore the largely untapped reservoir of fungal secondary metabolites.

Keywords: chromatin; fungi; secondary metabolites; transcriptional regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biosynthetic Pathways / genetics*
  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • Fungi / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Fungal*
  • Multigene Family*
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Secondary Metabolism*


  • Chromatin