The human CYP19 gene encodes aromatase, which converts androgens to estrogens. CYP19 mRNA variants are transcribed mainly from three promoters. Quantitative RT-PCR was used to measure the relative amounts of each of the three transcripts and determine the on/off state of the promoters. While some of the promoters were silent, CYP19 mRNA production differed among the other promoters, whose estimated transcription levels were 0.001% to 0.1% of that of the TUBB control gene. To investigate the structural aspects of chromatin that were responsible for this wide range of activity of the CYP19 promoters, we used a fractionation protocol, designated SEVENS, which sequentially separates densely packed nucleosomes from dispersed nucleosomes. The fractional distribution of each inactive promoter showed a similar pattern to that of the repressed reference loci; the inactive regions were distributed toward lower fractions, in which closed chromatin comprising packed nucleosomes was enriched. In contrast, active CYP19 promoters were raised toward upper fractions, including dispersed nucleosomes in open chromatin. Importantly, these active promoters were moderately enriched in the upper fractions as compared to active reference loci, such as the TUBB promoter; the proportion of open chromatin appeared to be positively correlated to the promoter strength. These results, together with ectopic transcription accompanied by an increase in the proportion of open chromatin in cells treated with an H3K27me inhibitor, indicate that CYP19 mRNA could be transcribed from a promoter in which chromatin is shifted toward an open state in the equilibrium between closed and open chromatin.
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