The autoimmune regulator PHD finger binds to non-methylated histone H3K4 to activate gene expression
Mutations in the gene autoimmune regulator (AIRE) cause autoimmune polyendocrinopathy candidiasis ectodermal dystrophy. AIRE is expressed in thymic medullary epithelial cells, where it promotes the expression of tissue-restricted antigens. By the combined use of biochemical and biophysical methods, we show that AIRE selectively interacts with histone H3 through its first plant homeodomain (PHD) finger (AIRE-PHD1) and preferentially binds to non-methylated H3K4 (H3K4me0). Accordingly, in vivo AIRE binds to and activates promoters containing low levels of H3K4me3 in human embryonic kidney 293 cells. We conclude that AIRE-PHD1 is an important member of a newly identified class of PHD fingers that specifically recognize H3K4me0, thus providing a new link between the status of histone modifications and the regulation of tissue-restricted antigen expression in thymus.