2021 journal article
Stability and folding pathways of tetra-nucleosome from six-dimensional free energy surface
Abstract The three-dimensional organization of chromatin is expected to play critical roles in regulating genome functions. High-resolution characterization of its structure and dynamics could improve our understanding of gene regulation mechanisms but has remained challenging. Using a near-atomistic model that preserves the chemical specificity of protein-DNA interactions at residue and base-pair resolution, we studied the stability and folding pathways of a tetra-nucleosome. Dynamical simulations performed with an advanced sampling technique uncovered multiple pathways that connect open chromatin configurations with the zigzag crystal structure. Intermediate states along the simulated folding pathways resemble chromatin configurations reported from in situ experiments. We further determined a six-dimensional free energy surface as a function of the inter-nucleosome distances via a deep learning approach. The zigzag structure can indeed be seen as the global minimum of the surface. However, it is not favored by a significant amount relative to the partially unfolded, in situ configurations. Chemical perturbations such as histone H4 tail acetylation and thermal fluctuations can further tilt the energetic balance to stabilize intermediate states. Our study provides insight into the connection between various reported chromatin configurations and has implications on the in situ relevance of the 30 nm fiber.