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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Granulocyte heterochromatin: defining the epigenome

Donald E Olins* and Ada L Olins

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME 04011, USA

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BMC Cell Biology 2005, 6:39  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-6-39

Published: 15 November 2005



Mammalian blood neutrophilic granulocytes are terminally differentiated cells, possessing extensive heterochromatin and lobulated (or ring-shaped) nuclei. Despite the extensive amount of heterochromatin, neutrophils are capable of increased gene expression, when activated by bacterial infection. Understanding the mechanisms of transcriptional repression and activation in neutrophils requires detailing the chromatin epigenetic markers, which are virtually undescribed in this cell type. Much is known about the heterochromatin epigenetic markers in other cell-types, permitting a basis for comparison with those of mature normal neutrophilic granulocytes.


Immunostaining and immunoblotting procedures were employed to study the presence of repressive histone modifications and HP1 proteins in normal human and mouse blood neutrophils, and in vitro differentiated granulocytes of the mouse promyelocytic (MPRO) system. A variety of repressive histone methylation markers were detectable in these granulocytes (di- and trimethylated H3K9; mono-, di- and trimethyl H3K27; di- and trimethyl H4K20). However, a paucity of HP1 proteins was noted. These granulocytes revealed negligible amounts of HP1 α and β, but exhibited detectable levels of HP1 γ. Of particular interest, mouse blood and MPRO undifferentiated cells and granulocytes revealed clear co-localization of trimethylated H3K9, trimethylated H4K20 and HP1 γ with pericentric heterochromatin.


Mature blood neutrophils possess some epigenetic heterochromatin features that resemble those of well-studied cells, such as lymphocytes. However, the apparent paucity of HP1 proteins in neutrophils suggests that heterochromatin organization and binding to the nuclear envelope may differ in this cell-type. Future investigations should follow changes in epigenetic markers and levels of HP1 proteins during granulopoiesis and bacterial activation of neutrophils.