Nucleosomes reconstituted from bacterially expressed histones are useful for functional and structural analyses of histone variants, histone mutants, and histone post-translational modifications. In the present study, we developed a new method for the expression and purification of recombinant human histones. The human histone H2A, H2B, and H3 genes were expressed well in Escherichia coli cells, but the human histone H4 gene was poorly expressed. Therefore, we designed a new histone H4 gene with codons optimized for the E. coli expression system and constructed the H4 gene by chemically synthesized oligodeoxyribonucleotides. The recombinant human histones were expressed as hexahistidine-tagged proteins and were purified by one-step chromatography with nickel-nitrilotriacetic acid agarose in the presence of 6M urea. The H2A/H2B dimer and the H3/H4 tetramer were refolded by dialysis against buffer without urea, and the hexahistidine-tags of the histones in the H2A/H2B dimer and the H3/H4 tetramer were removed by thrombin protease digestion. The H2A/H2B dimer and the H3/H4 tetramer obtained by this method were confirmed to be proficient in nucleosome formation by the salt dialysis method. The human CENP-A gene, the centromere-specific histone H3 variant, contains 28 minor codons for E. coli. A new CENP-A gene optimized for the E. coli expression system was also constructed, and we found that the purified recombinant CENP-A protein formed a nucleosome-like structure with histones H2A, H2B, and H4.
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