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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Low nucleosome occupancy is encoded around functional human transcription factor binding sites

Floris Daenen134, Frans van Roy234 and Pieter J De Bleser134*

Author Affiliations

1 Bioinformatics Core, VIB, B-9052 Ghent, Belgium

2 Molecular Cell Biology Unit, VIB, B-9052 Ghent, Belgium

3 Department for Molecular Biomedical Research, VIB, B-9052 Ghent, Belgium

4 Department of Molecular Biology, Ghent University, B-9052 Ghent, Belgium

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BMC Genomics 2008, 9:332  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-332

Published: 15 July 2008



Transcriptional regulation of genes in eukaryotes is achieved by the interactions of multiple transcription factors with arrays of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) on DNA and with each other. Identification of these TFBSs is an essential step in our understanding of gene regulatory networks, but computational prediction of TFBSs with either consensus or commonly used stochastic models such as Position-Specific Scoring Matrices (PSSMs) results in an unacceptably high number of hits consisting of a few true functional binding sites and numerous false non-functional binding sites. This is due to the inability of the models to incorporate higher order properties of sequences including sequences surrounding TFBSs and influencing the positioning of nucleosomes and/or the interactions that might occur between transcription factors.


Significant improvement can be expected through the development of a new framework for the modeling and prediction of TFBSs that considers explicitly these higher order sequence properties. It would be particularly interesting to include in the new modeling framework the information present in the nucleosome positioning sequences (NPSs) surrounding TFBSs, as it can be hypothesized that genomes use this information to encode the formation of stable nucleosomes over non-functional sites, while functional sites have a more open chromatin configuration.

In this report we evaluate the usefulness of the latter feature by comparing the nucleosome occupancy probabilities around experimentally verified human TFBSs with the nucleosome occupancy probabilities around false positive TFBSs and in random sequences.


We present evidence that nucleosome occupancy is remarkably lower around true functional human TFBSs as compared to non-functional human TFBSs, which supports the use of this feature to improve current TFBS prediction approaches in higher eukaryotes.