Training-free atomistic prediction of nucleosome occupancy.
Minary P., Levitt M.
Nucleosomes alter gene expression by preventing transcription factors from occupying binding sites along DNA. DNA methylation can affect nucleosome positioning and so alter gene expression epigenetically (without changing DNA sequence). Conventional methods to predict nucleosome occupancy are trained on observed DNA sequence patterns or known DNA oligonucleotide structures. They are statistical and lack the physics needed to predict subtle epigenetic changes due to DNA methylation. The training-free method presented here uses physical principles and state-of-the-art all-atom force fields to predict both nucleosome occupancy along genomic sequences as well as binding to known positioning sequences. Our method calculates the energy of both nucleosomal and linear DNA of the given sequence. Based on the DNA deformation energy, we accurately predict the in vitro occupancy profile observed experimentally for a 20,000-bp genomic region as well as the experimental locations of nucleosomes along 13 well-established positioning sequence elements. DNA with all C bases methylated at the 5 position shows less variation of nucleosome binding: Strong binding is weakened and weak binding is strengthened compared with normal DNA. Methylation also alters the preference of nucleosomes for some positioning sequences but not others.