Background: It has been shown that molecular interactions between site-specific chemical modifications such as acetylation and methylation on DNA-packing histones and conserved structural modules present in transcriptional proteins are closely associated with chromatin structural changes and gene activation. Unlike methyl-lysine that can interact with different protein modules including chromodomains, Tudor and MBT domains, as well as PHD fingers, acetyl-lysine (Kac) is known thus far to be recognized only by bromodomains. While histone lysine acetylation plays a crucial role in regulation of chromatin-mediated gene transcription, a high degree of sequence variation of the acetyl-lysine binding site in the bromodomains has limited our understanding of histone binding selectivity of the bromodomain family. Here, we report a systematic family-wide analysis of 14 yeast bromodomains binding to 32 lysine-acetylated peptides derived from known major acetylation sites in four core histones that are conserved in eukaryotes. Methodology: The histone binding selectivity of purified recombinant yeast bromodomains was assessed by using the native core histones in an overlay assay, as well as N-terminally biotinylated lysine-acetylated histone peptides spotted on streptavidin-coated nitrocellulose membrane in a dot blot assay. NMR binding analysis further validated the interactions between histones and selected bromodomain. Structural models of all yeast bromodomains were built using comparative modeling to provide insights into the molecular basis of their histone binding selectivity. Conclusions: Our study reveals that while not all members of the bromodomain family are privileged to interact with acetylated-lysine, identifiable sequence features from those that bind histone emerge. These include an asparagine residue at the C-terminus of the third helix in the 4-helix bundle, negatively charged residues around the ZA loop, and preponderance of aromatic amino acid residues in the binding pocket. Further, while bromodomains exhibit selectivity for different sites in histones, individual interactions are of modest affinity. Finally, electrostatic interactions appear to be a primary determining factor that guides productive association between a bromodomain and a lysine-acetylated histone.
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