Histone modifications are key components of chromatin packaging but whether they constitute a 'code' has been contested. We believe that the central issue is causality: are histone modifications responsible for differences between chromatin states, or are differences in modifications mostly consequences of dynamic processes, such as transcription and nucleosome remodeling? We find that inferences of causality are often based on correlation and that patterns of some key histone modifications are more easily explained as consequences of nucleosome disruption in the presence of histone modifying enzymes. We suggest that the 35-year-old DNA accessibility paradigm provides a mechanistically sound basis for understanding the role of nucleosomes in gene regulation and epigenetic inheritance. Based on this view, histone modifications and variants contribute to diversification of a chromatin landscape shaped by dynamic processes that are driven primarily by transcription and nucleosome remodeling.
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