NASP (nuclear autoantigenic sperm protein) is a member of the N1/N2 family, which is widely conserved among eukaryotes. Human NASP reportedly prefers to bind to histones H3·H4 and the linker histone H1, as compared with H2A·H2B, and is anticipated to function as an H3·H4 chaperone for nucleosome assembly. However, the direct nucleosome assembly activity of human NASP has not been reported so far. In humans, two spliced isoforms, somatic and testicular NASPs (sNASP and tNASP, respectively) were identified. In the present study we purified human sNASP and found that sNASP efficiently promoted the assembly of nucleosomes containing the conventional H3.1, H3.2, H3.3, or centromere-specific CENP-A. On the other hand, sNASP inefficiently promoted nucleosome assembly with H3T, a testis-specific H3 variant. Mutational analyses revealed that the Met-71 residue of H3T is responsible for this inefficient nucleosome formation by sNASP. Tetrasomes, composed of the H3·H4 tetramer and DNA without H2A·H2B, were efficiently formed by the sNASP-mediated nucleosome-assembly reaction. A deletion analysis of sNASP revealed that the central region, amino acid residues 26-325, of sNASP is responsible for nucleosome assembly in vitro. These experiments are the first demonstration that human NASP directly promotes nucleosome assembly and provide compelling evidence that sNASP is a bona fide histone chaperone for H3·H4.
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