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Transcription must be tightly controlled to regulate gene expression and development. However, our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that influence transcription and how these are coordinated in cells to ensure normal gene expression remains rudimentary. Here, by dissecting the function of the SET1 chromatin-modifying complexes that bind to CpG island-associated gene promoters, we discover that they play a specific and essential role in enabling the expression of low to moderately transcribed genes. Counterintuitively, this effect can occur independently of SET1 complex histone-modifying activity and instead relies on an interaction with the RNA Polymerase II-binding protein WDR82. Unexpectedly, we discover that SET1 complexes enable gene expression by antagonising premature transcription termination by the ZC3H4/WDR82 complex at CpG island-associated genes. In contrast, at extragenic sites of transcription, which typically lack CpG islands and SET1 complex occupancy, we show that the activity of ZC3H4/WDR82 is unopposed. Therefore, we reveal a gene regulatory mechanism whereby CpG islands are bound by a protein complex that specifically protects genic transcripts from premature termination, effectively distinguishing genic from extragenic transcription and enabling normal gene expression.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date