The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 60: 167 - 173 (2016)

Vol 60, Issue 4-5-6

In silico analysis of histone H3 gene expression during human brain development

Developmental Expression Pattern | Published: 19 May 2016

Megan Ren and Steve Van Nocker*

Program in Cell and Molecular Biology, Michigan State University, MI, USA


Precise regulation of chromatin structure is essential for proper development of higher eukaryotes, and methylation of histone H3 at lysine-27 (H3K27) by the Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) component EZH2 has emerged as an important and conserved mechanism to ensure silencing of developmentally regulated genes. Recurrent mutations within the histone H3 genes H3F3A and HIST1H3B that convert K27 to methionine (H3K27M) and disrupt the global H3K27 methylation landscape and PRC2-dependent silencing, have recently been identified in pediatric high-grade gliomas including Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) and Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM; Type IV glioma). These findings have generated renewed interest in the dynamics of histone genes and their expression, which have been difficult to study due to redundancy and high sequence homology within the H3 gene family. In this in silico study, we re-evaluated genomic organization of the human H3 gene family and expression of these genes in the human brain, utilizing public RNA-based sequence datasets for the human genome and brain development. We identified transcriptional activity from at least 17 protein-encoding H3 genes in the developing brain, comprising at least 14 canonical (H3.1)-like and 3 ‘replication-independent’ (H3.3)-like forms, and encoding six distinct H3 isoforms. Transcripts for H3.3 genes including H3F3A show gradual decrease in abundance associated with developmental progression, whereas H3.1 transcripts including HIST1H3B tend to be strongly downregulated at an early prenatal stage and remain essentially silent thereafter. Twelve genes, including members of both H3.1 and H3.3 classes, contain a K27-AAG codon that is mutable to that for M (ATG), whereas the remaining contain the alternative, AAA codon for K at this position. H3F3A is the only H3.3-like gene containing the K27-AAG codon, whereas HIST1H3B is among ten H3.1-like genes containing this codon. This data indicates that, in the early developing human brain, HIST1H3B constitutes the largest proportion of H3.1 transcripts among H3.1 isoforms. We suggest that the apparent overrepresentation of K27M mutations in H3F3A relative to other H3 isoforms may result from its uniqueness among H3.3s for the K27-AAG codon and the functional relationship between H3.3 and PRC2, whereas overrepresentation of K27M mutations in HIST1H3B may be a product of strong relative expression of this gene in the early developing brain.


histone H3, H3 variant, brain development, glioma, DIPG

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