The HIRA gene encodes a nuclear protein with histone-binding properties that have been conserved from yeast to humans. Hir1p and Hir2p, the two HIRA homologues in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, are transcriptional co-repressors whose action resides at the chromatin level and occurs in a cell-cycle-regulated fashion. In mammals, HIRA is an essential gene early during development, possibly through the control of specific gene-transcription programmes, but its exact function remains to be deciphered. Here we report on the subnuclear distribution and cell-cycle behaviour of the HIRA protein. Using both biochemical and immunofluorescence techniques, a minor fraction of HIRA was found tightly associated with the nuclear matrix, the material that remains after nuclease treatment and high-salt extraction. However, most HIRA molecules proved extractable. In non-synchronized cell populations, extraction from chromatin necessitated 300mM NaCl whereas 150mM was sufficient in mitotic cells. Immunofluorescence staining and microscopic examination of mitotic cells revealed HIRA as excluded from condensed chromosomes, confirming a lack of association with chromatin during mitosis. Western-blot analysis indicated that HIRA molecules were hyper-phosphorylated at this point in the cell cycle. Metabolic labelling and pulse-chase experiments characterized HIRA as a stable protein with a half-life of approx. 12h. The mitotic phosphorylation of HIRA could provide the dividing cell with a way to retarget HIRA-containing multi-protein complexes to different chromatin regions in daughter compared with parental cells.

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