In mammalian males, the first meiotic prophase is characterized by formation of a separate chromatin domain called the sex body. In this domain, the X and Y chromosomes are partially synapsed and transcriptionally silenced, a process termed meiotic sex-chromosome inactivation (MSCI). Likewise, unsynapsed autosomal chromatin present during pachytene is also silenced (meiotic silencing of unsynapsed chromatin, MSUC). Although it is known that MSCI and MSUC are both dependent on histone H2A.X phosphorylation mediated by the kinase ATR, and cause repressive H3 Lys9 dimethylation, the mechanisms underlying silencing are largely unidentified. Here, we demonstrate an extensive replacement of nucleosomes within unsynapsed chromatin, depending on and initiated shortly after induction of MSCI and MSUC. Nucleosomal eviction results in the exclusive incorporation of the H3.3 variant, which to date has primarily been associated with transcriptional activity. Nucleosomal exchange causes loss and subsequent selective reacquisition of specific histone modifications. This process therefore provides a means for epigenetic reprogramming of sex chromatin presumably required for gene silencing in the male mammalian germ line.
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