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Site-specific chromatin immunoprecipitation: a selective method to individually analyze neighboring transcription factor binding sites in vivo
Background: Transcription factors (TFs) and their binding sites (TFBSs) play a central role in the regulation of gene expression. It is therefore vital to know how the allocation pattern of TFBSs affects the functioning of any particular gene in vivo. A widely used method to analyze TFBSs in vivo is the chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP). However, this method in its present state does not enable the individual investigation of densely arranged TFBSs due to the underlying unspecific DNA fragmentation technique. This study describes a site-specific ChIP which aggregates the benefits of both EMSA and in vivo footprinting in only one assay, thereby allowing the individual detection and analysis of single binding motifs.
Findings: The standard ChIP protocol was modified by replacing the conventional DNA fragmentation, i. e. via sonication or undirected enzymatic digestion (by MNase), through a sequence specific enzymatic digestion step. This alteration enables the specific immunoprecipitation and individual examination of occupied sites, even in a complex system of adjacent binding motifs in vivo. Immunoprecipitated chromatin was analyzed by PCR using two primer sets - one for the specific detection of precipitated TFBSs and one for the validation of completeness of the enzyme digestion step. The method was established exemplary for Sp1 TFBSs within the egfr promoter region. Using this site-specific ChIP, we were able to confirm four previously described Sp1 binding sites within egfr promoter region to be occupied by Sp1 in vivo. Despite the dense arrangement of the Sp1 TFBSs the improved ChIP method was able to individually examine the allocation of all adjacent Sp1 TFBS at once. The broad applicability of this site-specific ChIP could be demonstrated by analyzing these SP1 motifs in both osteosarcoma cells and kidney carcinoma tissue.
Conclusions: The ChIP technology is a powerful tool for investigating transcription factors in vivo, especially in cancer biology. The established site-specific enzyme digestion enables a reliable and individual detection option for densely arranged binding motifs in vivo not provided by e.g. EMSA or in vivo footprinting. Given the important function of transcription factors in neoplastic mechanism, our method enables a broad diversity of application options for clinical studies.