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© 2016 Panday and Grove. Background: Eukaryotic chromatin consists of nucleosome core particles connected by linker DNA of variable length. Histone H1 associates with the linker DNA to stabilize the higher-order chromatin structure and to modulate the ability of regulatory factors to access their nucleosomal targets. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the protein with greatest sequence similarity to H1 is Hho1p. However, during vegetative growth, hho1Δ; cells do not show any discernible cell growth defects or the changes in bulk chromatin structure that are characteristic of chromatin from multicellular eukaryotes in which H1 is depleted. In contrast, the yeast high mobility group (HMGB) protein HMO1 has been reported to compact chromatin, as evidenced by increased nuclease sensitivity in hmo1Δ cells. HMO1 has an unusual domain architecture compared to vertebrate HMGB proteins in that the HMG domains are followed by a lysine-rich extension instead of an acidic domain. We address here the hypothesis that HMO1 serves the role of H1 in terms of chromatin compaction and that this function requires the lysine-rich extension. Results: We show here that HMO1 fulfills this function of a linker histone. For histone H1, chromatin compaction requires its basic C-terminal domain, and we find that the same pertains to HMO1, as deletion of its C-terminal lysine-rich extension renders chromatin nuclease sensitive. On rDNA, deletion of both HMO1 and Hho1p is required for significantly increased nuclease sensitivity. Expression of human histone H1 completely reverses the nuclease sensitivity characteristic of chromatin isolated from hmo1Δ cells. While chromatin remodeling events associated with repair of DNA double-strand breaks occur faster in the more dynamic chromatin environment created by the hmo1 deletion, expression of human histone H1 results in chromatin remodeling and double-strand break repair similar to that observed in wild-type cells. Conclusion: Our data suggest that S. cerevisiae HMO1 protects linker DNA from nuclease digestion, a property also characteristic of mammalian linker histone H1. Notably, association with HMO1 creates a less dynamic chromatin environment that depends on its lysine-rich domain. That HMO1 has linker histone function has implications for investigations of chromatin structure and function as well as for evolution of proteins with roles in chromatin compaction.

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Epigenetics and Chromatin