New & Noteworthy

A Revelation in Loosening Chromatin to Allow Replication

May 20, 2022

The orderly replication of chromosomes is a daily miracle, driving growth of all higher organisms. Yet chromosomes are packaged into tight little nucleosome balls that must be systematically unpacked before replication can commence. Much is yet to be learned about this process, but a recent study by Chacin et al. in Nature Communications has provided a new piece of the puzzle.

Position of YTA7 in the global genetic interaction profile similarity network, from Chacin et al.

The ATPase Yta7p was originally identified as an element that marked boundaries within chromatin, thereby influencing gene transcription by delineating active versus repressed regions. The protein has domains characteristic of the type-II family of AAA+ATPases. It was previously noted that Yta7p becomes phosphorylated during S phase and that phosphorylation caused eviction of Yta7p from chromatin. However, the reason a barrier protein would need to be specifically modified during S phase remained elusive.

In this new study, Chacin et al. observed replication defects in yta7 mutants and hypothesized that Yta7p might play a heretofore-unknown role in DNA synthesis. To address this hypothesis, the authors purified the protein and demonstrated a hexameric structure similar to known segregases of the AAA+-ATPase family. Next, the authors established an in vitro assay to assess the activity of the purified protein on packaged nucleosomes. By means of impressive reconstitution experiments, they showed that Yta7p is recruited to acetylated chromatin but does not have activity on chromatin until Yta7p is specifically activated by phosphorylation.

This activating phosphorylation, they show, is performed by the S-CDK complex (CLB5-CDC28 kinase complex) specifically during S phase. Further, phosphorylation was then shown to stimulate the ATPase function of the Yta7p enzyme.

Using a similar set of reconstitution experiments, the authors then asked questions about the activity of activated Yta7p on naked DNA versus chromatin. They showed that Yta7p did not have an effect on either naked DNA or nonacetylated chromatin, but strongly stimulated active replication on acetylated nucleosomes. From this they propose a model whereby active Yta7p causes nucleosomes to disassemble so that origins of replication are accessible to the replication machinery.

From Chacin et al.

Intriguingly, the YTA7 gene is conserved among eukaryotes, with the human homolog ATAD2 identified as an oncogene overexpressed in assorted cancers. The use of yeast to tease out the role of Yta7p in unpackaging nucleosomes ahead of DNA replication sheds light on the possible role of human ATAD2 in tumorigenesis. The simplicity of yeast once again affords insight into complicated systems within cell biology.

Categories: Research Spotlight

Tags: cancer , chromsome replication , DNA replication , Saccharomyces cerevisiae , yeast model for human disease