In human pachytene spermatocytes, SUMO protein is restricted to the constitutive heterochromatin

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SUMO-1, a ubiquitin-like protein, is covalently bound to many proteins, leading to chromatin inactivation and transcriptional repression. The high concentration of SUMO-1 on the XY body in rodents suggests that this protein has an important role in facultative heterochromatin organization. In human, the precise role of SUMO in chromatin/heterochromatin organization remains to be defined. Here we describe the SUMO-1 distribution, during human male meiosis, in relation to the formation of the different types of heterochromatin. We show that, during late pachynema, SUMO-1 appears on the constitutive heterochromatin, but is excluded from the XY body facultative heterochromatin. At the SUMO-1 labelled areas, the presence of HP1alpha protein, as well as of trimethylated H3-K9 and H4-K20 histone modifications, supports a role for SUMO-1 in constitutive heterochromatin organization. We also establish that, on the constitutive heterochromatin, H4-K20me3 staining progressively decreases as SUMO-1 staining increases, suggesting that core histone(s), and histone H4 in particular, are direct targets for sumoylation. Our results also suggest that, in the context of global histone H4 hyperacetylation that precedes the histone-to-protamine transition at postmeiotic stages of spermatogenesis, histone H4 sumoylation may represent an important epigenetic marker replacing methylation on the constitutive heterochromatin.

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