DNA in eukaryotic cells is packed in tandem repeats of nucleosomes or higher-order chromatin structures, which present obstacles to many cellular processes that require protein-DNA interactions, such as transcription, DNA repair, and recombination. To find proteins that are involved in increasing the accessibility of specific DNA regions in yeast, we used a genetic approach that exploited transcriptional silencing normally occurring at HML and HMR loci. The silencing is mediated by cis-acting silencer elements and is thought to require the formation of a special chromatin structure that prevents accessibility to the silenced DNA. A previously uncharacterized gene, termed DIS1, was isolated from a screen for genes that interfere with silencing when overexpressed. DIS1 encodes a protein with conserved motifs that are present in a family of DNA-dependent ATPases, the SWI2/SNF2-like proteins. Overproduction of N-terminal half of DIS1 protein interfered specifically with ectopic silencing used in the screen as well as HMR E silencing. Two-hybrid studies revealed a specific interaction between the N terminus of DIS1 and the C-terminal half of SIR4, a protein essential for silencing. Cells with a dis1 knockout mutation had significantly lower mating-type switching rate. These results suggest that DIS1 may contribute to making the silenced DNA template at HM loci more accessible during the mating-type switching process.
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