The nucleosome presents a formidable barrier to DNA-templated transcription by the RNA polymerase II machinery. Overcoming this transcriptional barrier in a locus-specific manner requires sequence-specific recognition of nucleosomal DNA by ‘pioneer’ transcription factors (TFs). Cell fate decisions, in turn, depend on the coordinated action of pioneer TFs at cell lineage-specific gene regulatory elements. Although it is already appreciated that pioneer factors play a critical role in cell differentiation, our understanding of the structural and biochemical mechanisms by which they act is still rapidly expanding. Recent research has revealed novel insight into modes of nucleosome-TF binding and uncovered kinetic principles by which nucleosomal DNA compaction affects both TF binding and residence time. Here, we review progress and argue that these structural and kinetic studies suggest new models of gene regulation by pioneer TFs.
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This work was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and NIH R01CA218255.
This article is part of the Topical Collection: Chromatin Biology and Epigenetics.
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Makowski, M.M., Gaullier, G. & Luger, K. Picking a nucleosome lock: Sequence- and structure-specific recognition of the nucleosome. J Biosci 45, 13 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12038-019-9970-7
- pioneer factors
- transcription factors
- transcriptional regulation