Characterizing chromatin folding coordinate and landscape with deep learning

by Wen Jun Xie, Yifeng Qi, Bin Zhang

Genome organization is critical for setting up the spatial environment of gene transcription, and substantial progress has been made towards its high-resolution characterization. The underlying molecular mechanism for its establishment is much less understood. We applied a deep-learning approach, variational autoencoder (VAE), to analyze the fluctuation and heterogeneity of chromatin structures revealed by single-cell imaging and to identify a reaction coordinate for chromatin folding. This coordinate connects the seemingly random structures observed in individual cohesin-depleted cells as intermediate states along a folding pathway that leads to the formation of topologically associating domains (TAD). We showed that folding into wild-type-like structures remain energetically favorable in cohesin-depleted cells, potentially as a result of the phase separation between the two chromatin segments with active and repressive histone marks. The energetic stabilization, however, is not strong enough to overcome the entropic penalty, leading to the formation of only partially folded structures and the disappearance of TADs from contact maps upon averaging. Our study suggests that machine learning techniques, when combined with rigorous statistical mechanical analysis, are powerful tools for analyzing structural ensembles of chromatin.

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Paper source
Plos Journal

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