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Contrasting chromatin organization of CpG islands and exons in the human genome

Jung Kyoon Choi

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology and Brain Engineering, KAIST, 335 Gwahak-ro, Daejeon 305-701, Republic of Korea

Computational and Mathematical Biology, Genome Institute of Singapore, 60 Biopolis Street, Singapore 138672, Republic of Singapore

Genome Biology 2010, 11:R70  doi:10.1186/gb-2010-11-7-r70

Published: 5 July 2010



CpG islands and nucleosome-free regions are both found in promoters. However, their association has never been studied. On the other hand, DNA methylation is absent in promoters but is enriched in gene bodies. Intragenic nucleosomes and their modifications have been recently associated with RNA splicing. Because the function of intragenic DNA methylation remains unclear, I explored the possibility of its involvement in splicing regulation.


Here I show that CpG islands were associated not only with methylation-free promoters but also with nucleosome-free promoters. Nucleosome-free regions were observed only in promoters containing a CpG island. However, the DNA sequences of CpG islands predicted the opposite pattern, implying a limitation of sequence programs for the determination of nucleosome occupancy. In contrast to the methylation-and nucleosome-free states of CpG-island promoters, exons were densely methylated at CpGs and packaged into nucleosomes. Exon-enrichment of DNA methylation was specifically found in spliced exons and in exons with weak splice sites. The enrichment patterns were less pronounced in initial exons and in non-coding exons, potentially reflecting a lower need for their splicing. I also found that nucleosomes, DNA methylation, and H3K36me3 marked the exons of transcripts with low, medium, and high gene expression levels, respectively.


Human promoters containing a CpG island tend to remain nucleosome-free as well as methylation-free. In contrast, exons demonstrate a high degree of methylation and nucleosome occupancy. Exonic DNA methylation seems to function together with exonic nucleosomes and H3K36me3 for the proper splicing of transcripts with different expression levels.