Co-transcriptional histone modifications are a ubiquitous feature of RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) transcription, with profound but incompletely understood effects on gene expression. Unlike the covalent marks found at promoters, which are thought to be instructive for transcriptional activation, these modifications occur in gene bodies as a result of transcription, which has made elucidation of their functions challenging. Here we review recent insights into the regulation and roles of two such modifications: monoubiquitylation of histone H2B at lysine 120 (H2Bub1) and methylation of histone H3 at lysine 36 (H3K36me). Both H2Bub1 and H3K36me are enriched in the coding regions of transcribed genes, with highly overlapping distributions, but they were thought to work largely independently. We highlight our recent demonstration that, as was previously shown for H3K36me, H2Bub1 signals to the histone deacetylase (HDAC) complex Rpd3S/Clr6-CII, and that Rpd3S/Clr6-CII and H2Bub1 function in the same pathway to repress aberrant antisense transcription initiating within gene coding regions. Moreover, both of these histone modification pathways are influenced by protein phosphorylation catalyzed by the cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) that regulate RNAPII elongation, chiefly Cdk9. Therefore, H2Bub1 and H3K36me are more tightly linked than previously thought, sharing both upstream regulatory inputs and downstream effectors. Moreover, these newfound connections suggest extensive, bidirectional signaling between RNAPII elongation complexes and chromatin-modifying enzymes, which helps to determine transcriptional outputs and should be a focus for future investigation.
- Co-transcriptional histone modification