Background: Regulation of transcription depends on interactions between cis-regulatory elements (CREs) and regulatory proteins. Active CREs are imbedded in open chromatin that are accessible to nucleases. Several techniques, including DNase-seq, which is based on nuclease DNase I, and ATAC-seq, which is based on transposase Tn5, have been widely used to identify genomic regions associated with open chromatin. These techniques have played a key role in dissecting the regulatory networks in gene expression in both animal and plant species.
Results: We develop a technique, named MNase hypersensitivity sequencing (MH-seq), to identify genomic regions associated with open chromatin in Arabidopsis thaliana. Genomic regions enriched with MH-seq reads are referred as MNase hypersensitive sites (MHSs). MHSs overlap with the majority (~ 90%) of the open chromatin identified previously by DNase-seq and ATAC-seq. Surprisingly, 22% MHSs are not covered by DNase-seq or ATAC-seq reads, which are referred to "specific MHSs" (sMHSs). sMHSs tend to be located away from promoters, and a substantial portion of sMHSs are derived from transposable elements. Most interestingly, genomic regions containing sMHSs are enriched with epigenetic marks, including H3K27me3 and DNA methylation. In addition, sMHSs show a number of distinct characteristics including association with transcriptional repressors. Thus, sMHSs span distinct classes of open chromatin that may not be accessible to DNase I or Tn5. We hypothesize that the small size of the MNase enzyme relative to DNase I or Tn5 allows its access to relatively more condensed chromatin domains.
Conclusion: MNase can be used to identify open chromatin regions that are not accessible to DNase I or Tn5. Thus, MH-seq provides an important tool to identify and catalog all classes of open chromatin in plants.
Keywords: ATAC-seq; Arabidopsis thaliana; DNA methylation; DNase-seq; Histone modification; Open chromatin; cis-regulatory elements.