Chromatin Profiling Techniques: Exploring the Chromatin Environment and Its Contributions to Complex Traits

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jul 16;22(14):7612. doi: 10.3390/ijms22147612.


The genetic architecture of complex traits is multifactorial. Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) have identified risk loci for complex traits and diseases that are disproportionately located at the non-coding regions of the genome. On the other hand, we have just begun to understand the regulatory roles of the non-coding genome, making it challenging to precisely interpret the functions of non-coding variants associated with complex diseases. Additionally, the epigenome plays an active role in mediating cellular responses to fluctuations of sensory or environmental stimuli. However, it remains unclear how exactly non-coding elements associate with epigenetic modifications to regulate gene expression changes and mediate phenotypic outcomes. Therefore, finer interrogations of the human epigenomic landscape in associating with non-coding variants are warranted. Recently, chromatin-profiling techniques have vastly improved our understanding of the numerous functions mediated by the epigenome and DNA structure. Here, we review various chromatin-profiling techniques, such as assays of chromatin accessibility, nucleosome distribution, histone modifications, and chromatin topology, and discuss their applications in unraveling the brain epigenome and etiology of complex traits at tissue homogenate and single-cell resolution. These techniques have elucidated compositional and structural organizing principles of the chromatin environment. Taken together, we believe that high-resolution epigenomic and DNA structure profiling will be one of the best ways to elucidate how non-coding genetic variations impact complex diseases, ultimately allowing us to pinpoint cell-type targets with therapeutic potential.

Keywords: DNA structure; brain; chromatin loops; complex diseases; complex traits; epigenome; histone modifications; non-coding; open chromatin; transcription factors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites / genetics
  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • Chromatin / physiology*
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation / methods
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics
  • Epigenome / genetics
  • Epigenomics / methods
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Genome
  • Genome-Wide Association Study / methods
  • Histone Code / genetics
  • Humans
  • Multifactorial Inheritance / genetics
  • Nucleosomes / metabolism
  • Nucleosomes / physiology
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • RNA, Untranslated / genetics
  • RNA, Untranslated / metabolism


  • Chromatin
  • Nucleosomes
  • RNA, Untranslated