Reading the chromatinized genome

Cell. 2021 Jul 8;184(14):3599-3611. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.05.029. Epub 2021 Jun 18.


Eukaryotic DNA-binding proteins operate in the context of chromatin, where nucleosomes are the elementary building blocks. Nucleosomal DNA is wrapped around a histone core, thereby rendering a large fraction of the DNA surface inaccessible to DNA-binding proteins. Nevertheless, first responders in DNA repair and sequence-specific transcription factors bind DNA target sites obstructed by chromatin. While early studies examined protein binding to histone-free DNA, it is only now beginning to emerge how DNA sequences are interrogated on nucleosomes. These readout strategies range from the release of nucleosomal DNA from histones, to rotational/translation register shifts of the DNA motif, and nucleosome-specific DNA binding modes that differ from those observed on naked DNA. Since DNA motif engagement on nucleosomes strongly depends on position and orientation, we argue that motif location and nucleosome positioning co-determine protein access to DNA in transcription and DNA repair.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • Genome*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Nucleosomes / metabolism
  • Nucleotide Motifs / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Chromatin
  • Nucleosomes
  • Transcription Factors