Histones are essential proteins that package the eukaryotic genome into its physiological state of nucleosomes, chromatin, and chromosomes. Post-translational modifications (PTMs) of histones are crucial to both the dynamic and persistent regulation of the genome. Histone PTMs store and convey complex signals about the state of the genome. This is often achieved by multiple variable PTM sites, occupied or unoccupied, on the same histone molecule or nucleosome functioning in concert. These mechanisms are supported by the structures of ‘readers’ that transduce the signal from the presence or absence of PTMs in specific cellular contexts. We provide background on PTMs and their complexes, review the known combinatorial function of PTMs, and assess the value and limitations of common approaches to measure combinatorial PTMs. This review serves as both a reference and a path forward to investigate combinatorial PTM functions, discover new synergies, and gather additional evidence supporting that combinations of histone PTMs are the central currency of chromatin-mediated regulation of the genome.

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