Open Access Research article

A histone arginine methylation localizes to nucleosomes in satellite II and III DNA sequences in the human genome

Daniel Capurso1, Hao Xiong2 and Mark R Segal2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, San Francisco, CA, USA

2 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:630  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-630

Published: 15 November 2012



Applying supervised learning/classification techniques to epigenomic data may reveal properties that differentiate histone modifications. Previous analyses sought to classify nucleosomes containing histone H2A/H4 arginine 3 symmetric dimethylation (H2A/H4R3me2s) or H2A.Z using human CD4+ T-cell chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing (ChIP-Seq) data. However, these efforts only achieved modest accuracy with limited biological interpretation. Here, we investigate the impact of using appropriate data pre-processing —deduplication, normalization, and position- (peak-) finding to identify stable nucleosome positions — in conjunction with advanced classification algorithms, notably discriminatory motif feature selection and random forests. Performance assessments are based on accuracy and interpretative yield.


We achieved dramatically improved accuracy using histone modification features (99.0%; previous attempts, 68.3%) and DNA sequence features (94.1%; previous attempts, <60%). Furthermore, the algorithms elicited interpretable features that withstand permutation testing, including: the histone modifications H4K20me3 and H3K9me3, which are components of heterochromatin; and the motif TCCATT, which is part of the consensus sequence of satellite II and III DNA. Downstream analysis demonstrates that satellite II and III DNA in the human genome is occupied by stable nucleosomes containing H2A/H4R3me2s, H4K20me3, and/or H3K9me3, but not 18 other histone methylations. These results are consistent with the recent biochemical finding that H4R3me2s provides a binding site for the DNA methyltransferase (Dnmt3a) that methylates satellite II and III DNA.


Classification algorithms applied to appropriately pre-processed ChIP-Seq data can accurately discriminate between histone modifications. Algorithms that facilitate interpretation, such as discriminatory motif feature selection, have the added potential to impart information about underlying biological mechanism.

Epigenomics; Histone modifications; ChIP-Seq; Data pre-processing; Classification