National Research Centre Frontiers in Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Ecole Polytechnique Federale (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland.
The spatial and temporal control of Hox gene transcription is essential for patterning the vertebrate body axis. Although this process involves changes in histone posttranslational modifications, the existence of particular three-dimensional (3D) architectures remained to be assessed in vivo. Using high-resolution chromatin conformation capture methodology, we examined the spatial configuration of Hox clusters in embryonic mouse tissues where different Hox genes are active. When the cluster is transcriptionally inactive, Hox genes associate into a single 3D structure delimited from flanking regions. Once transcription starts, Hox clusters switch to a bimodal 3D organization where newly activated genes progressively cluster into a transcriptionally active compartment. This transition in spatial configurations coincides with the dynamics of chromatin marks, which label the progression of the gene clusters from a negative to a positive transcription status. This spatial compartmentalization may be key to process the colinear activation of these compact gene clusters.