Differential nucleosome spacing in neurons and glia

Neurosci Lett. 2020 Jan 1;714:134559. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2019.134559. Epub 2019 Oct 19.


Eukaryotic chromosomes are composed of chromatin, in which regularly spaced nucleosomes containing ∼147 bp of DNA are separated by linker DNA. Most eukaryotic cells have a characteristic average nucleosome spacing of ∼190 bp, corresponding to a ∼45 bp linker. However, cortical neurons have a shorter average spacing of ∼165 bp. The significance of this atypical global chromatin organization is unclear. We have compared the chromatin structures of purified mouse dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons, cortical oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) and cortical astrocytes. DRG neurons have short average spacing (∼165 bp), whereas OPCs (∼182 bp) and astrocytes (∼183 bp) have longer spacing. We measured nucleosome positions by MNase-seq and gene expression by RNA-seq. Most genes in all three cell types have a promoter chromatin organization typical of active genes: a nucleosome-depleted region at the promoter flanked by regularly spaced nucleosomes phased relative to the transcription start site. In DRG neurons, the spacing of phased nucleosomes downstream of promoters (∼182 bp) is longer than expected from the genomic average for DRG neurons, whereas phased nucleosome spacing in OPCs and astrocytes is similar to the global average for these cells (∼183 bp). Thus, the atypical nucleosome spacing of neuronal chromatin does not extend to promoter-proximal regions.

Keywords: Astrocytes; Chromatin; Dorsal root ganglia neurons; Nucleosome; Oligodendrocyte progenitor cells; Transcription.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Chromatin Assembly and Disassembly
  • Electrophoresis, Agar Gel
  • Ganglia, Spinal / cytology
  • Ganglia, Spinal / metabolism
  • Histones
  • Mice
  • Micrococcal Nuclease
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Nucleosomes / genetics*
  • Nucleosomes / metabolism
  • Oligodendrocyte Precursor Cells / metabolism*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • RNA-Seq
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Transcriptome


  • Chromatin
  • Histones
  • Nucleosomes
  • Micrococcal Nuclease