Transcriptional reprogramming by oxidative stress occurs within a predefined chromatin accessibility landscape

Daniel C. Levings, Sarah E. Lacher, Juan Palacios-Moreno, Matthew Slattery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are important signaling molecules in many physiological processes, yet excess ROS leads to cell damage and can lead to pathology. Accordingly, cells need to maintain tight regulation of ROS levels, and ROS-responsive transcriptional reprogramming is central to this process. Although it has long been recognized that oxidative stress leads to rapid, significant changes in gene expression, the impact of oxidative stress on the underlying chromatin accessibility landscape remained unclear. Here, we asked whether ROS-responsive transcriptional reprogramming is accompanied by reprogramming of the chromatin environment in MCF7 human breast cancer cells. Using a time-course exposure to multiple inducers of oxidative stress, we determined that the widespread ROS-responsive changes in gene expression induced by ROS occur with minimal changes to the chromatin environment. While we did observe changes in chromatin accessibility, these changes were: (1) far less numerous than gene expression changes after oxidative stress, and (2) occur within pre-existing regions of accessible chromatin. Transcription factor (TF) footprinting analysis of our ATAC-seq experiments identified 5 TFs or TF families with evidence for ROS-responsive changes in DNA binding: NRF2, AP-1, p53, NFY, and SP/KLF. Importantly, several of these (AP-1, NF–Y, and SP/KLF factors) have not been previously implicated as widespread regulators in the response to ROS. In summary, we have characterized genome-wide changes in gene expression and chromatin accessibility in response to ROS treatment of MCF7 cells, and we have found that regulation of the large-scale transcriptional response to excess ROS is primarily constrained by the cell's pre-existing chromatin landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-331
Number of pages13
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to acknowledge Salil Pathak and Jennifer Krznarich for helpful discussions. We would also like to acknowledge the University of Minnesota Genomics Center for assistance with library preparation and next generation sequencing, and the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute for providing computational resources. This work was supported by funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health ( R35-GM-119553 to M.S.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.


  • AP-1
  • Chromatin
  • Gene expression
  • Genomics
  • NF–Y
  • NRF2
  • Oxidative stress
  • SP-1
  • p53


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