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The Polycomb system modifies chromatin and plays an essential role in repressing gene expression to control normal mammalian development. However, the components and mechanisms that define how Polycomb protein complexes achieve this remain enigmatic. Here, we use combinatorial genetic perturbation coupled with quantitative genomics to discover the central determinants of Polycomb-mediated gene repression in mouse embryonic stem cells. We demonstrate that canonical Polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1), which mediates higher-order chromatin structures, contributes little to gene repression. Instead, we uncover an unexpectedly high degree of synergy between variant PRC1 complexes, which is fundamental to gene repression. We further demonstrate that variant PRC1 complexes are responsible for distinct pools of H2A monoubiquitylation that are associated with repression of Polycomb target genes and silencing during X chromosome inactivation. Together, these discoveries reveal a new variant PRC1-dependent logic for Polycomb-mediated gene repression.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Cell

Publication Date



PCGF, PRC1, PRC2, chromatin, epigenetics, gene expression, histone, histone modification, polycomb, ubiquitylation