Most of what we know about gene transcription comes from the view of cells as molecular machines: Focusing on the role of molecular modifications to the proteins carrying out transcriptional reactions at a loci-by-loci basis. This view ignores a critical reality: Biological reactions do not happen in an empty space, but in a highly complex, interrelated, and dense nanoenvironment that profoundly influences chemical interactions. We explored the relationship between the physical nanoenvironment of chromatin and gene transcription in vitro. We analytically show that changes in the fractal dimension, D, of chromatin correspond to simultaneous increases in chromatin accessibility and compaction heterogeneity. Using these predictions, we demonstrate experimentally that nanoscopic changes to chromatin D within thirty minutes correlate with concomitant enhancement and suppression of transcription. Further, we show that the increased heterogeneity of physical structure of chromatin due to increase in fractal dimension correlates with increased heterogeneity of gene networks. These findings indicate that the higher order folding of chromatin topology may act as a molecular-pathway independent code regulating global patterns of gene expression. Since physical organization of chromatin is frequently altered in oncogenesis, this work provides evidence pairing molecular function to physical structure for processes frequently altered during tumorigenesis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas