Context dependent function of the transcriptional regulator Rap1 in gene silencing and activation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2023 May 11:2023.05.08.539937. doi: 10.1101/2023.05.08.539937.


In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, heterochromatin is formed through interactions between site-specific DNA-binding factors, including the transcriptional activator Rap1, and Sir proteins. Despite a vast understanding of the establishment and maintenance of Sir-silenced chromatin, the mechanism of gene silencing by Sir proteins has remained a mystery. Utilizing high resolution chromatin immunoprecipitation, we found that Rap1, the native activator of the bi-directional HML α promoter, bound its recognition sequence in silenced chromatin and its binding was enhanced by the presence of Sir proteins. In contrast to prior results, various components of transcription machinery were not able to access HML α in the silenced state. These findings disproved the long-standing model of indiscriminate steric occlusion by Sir proteins and led to investigation of the transcriptional activator Rap1 in Sir-silenced chromatin. Using a highly sensitive assay that monitors loss-of-silencing events, we identified a novel role for promoter-bound Rap1 in the maintenance of silent chromatin through interactions with the Sir complex. We also found that promoter-bound Rap1 activated HML α when in an expressed state, and aided in the transition from transcription initiation to elongation. Highlighting the importance of epigenetic context in transcription factor function, these results point toward a model in which the duality of Rap1 function was mediated by local chromatin environment rather than binding-site availability.

Significance statement: The coarse partitioning of the genome into regions of active euchromatin and repressed heterochromatin is an important, and conserved, level gene expression regulation in eukaryotes. Repressor Activator Protein (Rap1) is a transcription factor that promotes the activation of genes when recruited to promoters, and aids in the establishment of heterochromatin through interactions with silencer elements. Here, we investigate the role of Rap1 when bound to a promoter in silent chromatin and dissect the context-specific epigenetic cues that regulate the dual properties of this transcription factor. Together, our data highlight the importance of protein-protein interactions and local chromatin state on transcription factor function.

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