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Histone modifications represent an important epigenetic mechanism for the organization of higher order chromatin structure and gene regulation. Methylation of position-specific lysine residues in the histone H3 and H4 amino termini has been linked with the formation of constitutive and facultative heterochromatin as well as with specifically repressed single gene loci. Using an antibody, directed against dimethylated lysine 9 of histone H3 and several other lysine methylation sites, we visualized the nuclear distribution pattern of chromatin flagged by these methylated lysines in 3D preserved nuclei of normal and malignant cell types. Optical confocal serial sections were used for a quantitative evaluation. We demonstrate distinct differences of these histone methylation patterns among nuclei of different cell types after exit of the cell cycle. Changes in the pattern formation were also observed during the cell cycle. Our data suggest an important role of methylated histones in the reestablishment of higher order chromatin arrangements during telophase/early G1. Cell type specific histone methylation patterns are possibly causally involved in the formation of cell type specific heterochromatin compartments, composed of (peri)centromeric regions and chromosomal subregions from neighboring chromosome territories, which contain silent genes.
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