Evolutionary conservation of histone modifications in mammals

Yong H. Woo, Wen Hsiung Li*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Histone modification is an important mechanism of gene regulation in eukaryotes. Why many histone modifications can be stably maintained in the midst of genetic and environmental changes is a fundamental question in evolutionary biology. We obtained genome-wide profiles of three histone marks, H3 lysine 4 tri-methylation (H3K4me3), H3 lysine 4 mono-methylation (H3K4me1), and H3 lysine 27 acetylation (H3K27ac), for several cell types from human and mouse. We identified histone modifications that were stable among different cell types in human and histone modifications that were evolutionarily conserved between mouse and human in the same cell type. We found that histone modifications that were stable among cell types were also likely to be conserved between species. This trend was consistently observed in promoter, intronic, and intergenic regions for all of the histone marks tested. Importantly, the trend was observed regardless of the expression breadth of the nearby gene, indicating that slow evolution of housekeeping genes was not the major reason for the correlation. These regions showed distinct genetic and epigenetic properties, such as clustered transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs), high GC content, and CTCF binding at flanking sides. Based on our observations, we proposed that TFBS clustering in or near a histone modification plays a significant role in stabilizing and conserving the histone modification because TFBS clustering promotes TFBS conservation, which in turn promotes histone modification conservation. In summary, the results of this study support the view that in mammalian genomes a common mechanism maintains histone modifications against both genetic and environmental (cellular) changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1757-1767
Number of pages11
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • evolution of chromatin state
  • histone modification
  • transcription factor binding site

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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