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Distributed probing of chromatin structure in vivo reveals pervasive chromatin accessibility for expressed and non-expressed genes during tissue differentiation in C. elegans

Ky Sha123, Sam G Gu1, Luiz C Pantalena-Filho23, Amy Goh23, Jamie Fleenor2, Daniel Blanchard123, Chaya Krishna1 and Andrew Fire123*

Author Affiliations

1 Depts. of Pathology and Genetics, Stanford University School of Medicine, 300 Pasteur Drive, Palo Alto CA, USA

2 Carnegie Institution of Washington, 115 West University Parkway, Baltimore MD, USA

3 Biology Department, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 North Charles St., Baltimore MD, USA

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:465  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-465

Published: 6 August 2010



Tissue differentiation is accompanied by genome-wide changes in the underlying chromatin structure and dynamics, or epigenome. By controlling when, where, and what regulatory factors have access to the underlying genomic DNA, the epigenome influences the cell's transcriptome and ultimately its function. Existing genomic methods for analyzing cell-type-specific changes in chromatin generally involve two elements: (i) a source for purified cells (or nuclei) of distinct types, and (ii) a specific treatment that partitions or degrades chromatin by activity or structural features. For many cell types of great interest, such assays are limited by our inability to isolate the relevant cell populations in an organism or complex tissue containing an intertwined mixture of other cells. This limitation has confined available knowledge of chromatin dynamics to a narrow range of biological systems (cell types that can be sorted/separated/dissected in large numbers and tissue culture models) or to amalgamations of diverse cell types (tissue chunks, whole organisms).


Transgene-driven expression of DNA/chromatin modifying enzymes provides one opportunity to query chromatin structures in expression-defined cell subsets. In this work we combine in vivo expression of a bacterial DNA adenine methyltransferase (DAM) with high throughput sequencing to sample tissue-specific chromatin accessibility on a genome-wide scale. We have applied the method (DALEC: Direct Asymmetric Ligation End Capture) towards mapping a cell-type-specific view of genome accessibility as a function of differentiated state. Taking advantage of C. elegans strains expressing the DAM enzyme in diverse tissues (body wall muscle, gut, and hypodermis), our efforts yield a genome-wide dataset measuring chromatin accessibility at each of 538,000 DAM target sites in the C. elegans (diploid) genome.


Validating the DALEC mapping results, we observe a strong association between observed coverage by nucleosomes and low DAM accessibility. Strikingly, we observed no extended regions of inaccessible chromatin for any of the tissues examined. These results are consistent with "local choreography" models in which differential gene expression is driven by intricate local rearrangements of chromatin structure rather than gross impenetrability of large chromosomal regions.