Molecular dissection of formation of senescence-associated heterochromatin foci.
Senescence is characterized by an irreversible cell proliferation arrest. Specialized domains of facultative heterochromatin, called senescence-associated heterochromatin foci (SAHF), are thought to contribute to the irreversible cell cycle exit in many senescent cells by repressing the expression of proliferation-promoting genes such as cyclin A. SAHF contain known heterochromatin-forming proteins, such as heterochromatin protein 1 (HP1) and the histone H2A variant macroH2A, and other specialized chromatin proteins, such as HMGA proteins. Previously, we showed that a complex of histone chaperones, histone repressor A (HIRA) and antisilencing function 1a (ASF1a), plays a key role in the formation of SAHF. Here we have further dissected the series of events that contribute to SAHF formation. We show that each chromosome condenses into a single SAHF focus. Chromosome condensation depends on the ability of ASF1a to physically interact with its deposition substrate, histone H3, in addition to its cochaperone, HIRA. In cells entering senescence, HP1gamma, but not the related proteins HP1alpha and HP1beta, becomes phosphorylated on serine 93. This phosphorylation is required for efficient incorporation of HP1gamma into SAHF. Remarkably, however, a dramatic reduction in the amount of chromatin-bound HP1 proteins does not detectably affect chromosome condensation into SAHF. Moreover, abundant HP1 proteins are not required for the accumulation in SAHF of histone H3 methylated on lysine 9, the recruitment of macroH2A proteins, nor other hallmarks of senescence, such as the expression of senescence-associated beta-galactosidase activity and senescence-associated cell cycle exit. Based on our results, we propose a stepwise model for the formation of SAHF.
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