The control of gene expression and cell identity by H3K9 trimethylation

Development. 2019 Sep 20;146(19):dev181180. doi: 10.1242/dev.181180.


Histone 3 lysine 9 trimethylation (H3K9me3) is a conserved histone modification that is best known for its role in constitutive heterochromatin formation and the repression of repetitive DNA elements. More recently, it has become evident that H3K9me3 is also deposited at certain loci in a tissue-specific manner and plays important roles in regulating cell identity. Notably, H3K9me3 can repress genes encoding silencing factors, pointing to a fundamental principle of repressive chromatin auto-regulation. Interestingly, recent studies have shown that H3K9me3 deposition requires protein SUMOylation in different contexts, suggesting that the SUMO pathway functions as an important module in gene silencing and heterochromatin formation. In this Review, we discuss the role of H3K9me3 in gene regulation in various systems and the molecular mechanisms that guide the silencing machinery to target loci.

Keywords: Cell fate maintenance; Chromatin; Epigenetics; Gene regulation; Germline; Heterochromatin; Transcriptional repression; Transposons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Heterochromatin / metabolism
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lysine / metabolism*
  • Methylation


  • Heterochromatin
  • Histones
  • Lysine