To obtain stable and constitutive expression of histone H5 at levels comparable to those observed in normal chicken erythrocytes, an avian self-inactivating retroviral vector was used to transfer the H5 gene into cells which do not express this protein. The vector, pDAH5, was obtained by removing the CAAT and TATA boxes of the 3'LTR of the avian leukosis virus RAV-2 and inserting the H5 sequence. Infection of QT6 quail cells with the recombinant virus (DAH5) led to the stable integration of the foreign H5 gene at low copy number, to the formation of correctly initiated mRNA transcripts and to the production of H5 protein. The amount of H5 expressed was equivalent to that of a mature chicken erythrocyte. Expression of histone H5 in DAH5 transformed cells, such as QT6 or AEV-ES4, transformed chicken embryo fibroblasts had only slight effects on the growth rate and did not inhibit cell replication. Conversely, the effect of H5 expression on normal quail and chicken fibroblasts was dramatic: cells acquired the aspect of quiescent fibroblasts, grew very slowly, and nuclei looked compacted, often extruded from the cell. The H5 histone produced in QT6-transformed cells was found to be phosphorylated while in normal chicken fibroblasts the protein lacked this posttranslational modification. It is proposed that the chromatin-condensing role of histone H5 is inhibited by its phosphorylation.

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