Braking the silence: How heterochromatic gene repression is stopped in its tracks

David Donze, Louisiana State University School of Medicine Bethesda
Rohinton T. Kamakaka, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)


Eukaryotic DNA is assembled into nucleosomes, which are further packaged into higher order chromatin structures containing many non-histone chromosomal proteins. The details of this packaging have profound effects on gene expression and other cellular processes involving the genetic material. Heterochromatic domains of the genome are usually transcriptionally repressed, while euchromatic regions are transcriptionally competent. Current models of gene activation postulate the existence of boundary elements that either prevent inappropriate activation of genes by distal enhancers (enhancer blockers), or sequences that block the propagation of heterochromatin into euchromatic regions (barriers). While numerous boundary sequences have been identified, little is known with regard to the molecular mechanisms used to punctuate the genome. This review will focus on recent data that provide insight into the mode of action of barrier elements. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.