Lampbrush chromosomes from oocytes of the amphibian Triturus cristatus have been used to examine the role of histone acetylation in transcription by indirect immunofluorescence with antisera to H4 acetylated at specific lysine residues. Electrophoresis on acid-urea-Triton gels and Western blotting have confirmed the specificity of these antisera and defined the order in which particular lysine residues are acetylated in amphibian cells. As in mammals, lysine 16 is acetylated first, followed by 8 and/or 12 and then 5. With lampbrush chromosomes from immature (previtellogenic) oocytes, antisera to H4 acetylated at lysines 8, 12, and 16 labeled fluorescent foci at the bases of transcription loops. Antisera to H4 acetylated at lysine 5 labeled weakly (i.e., the tri- and tetraacetylated isoforms must be rare). Loops showed weak labeling of the chromatin axis but intense fluorescence at particular points, which probably represent incompletely decondensed chromatin. The RNP matrix of loops, including the RNP-rich sphere bodies and the dense matrix of "marker" loops, was not labeled. Treatment of immature oocytes with butyrate for 12 h to inhibit histone deacetylation did not affect immunolabeling, suggesting that turnover of H4 acetates is slow. In contrast, in chromosomes from mature oocytes, in which loops have retracted and transcription is low, butyrate caused an increase in labeling with all antisera, followed by the appearance of vestigial loops, weakly labeled, but with regions of intense fluorescence. These loops contain RNP and are presumably transcriptionally active. We conclude that H4 acetates turn over more rapidly in mature than immature oocytes and that histone hyperacetylation precedes, and possibly induces, loop formation and transcriptional activation.

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